Wise Cars: Skimpy on Fuel, But Are They Safe? Scientific American
“Wise Cars”: Skimpy on Fuel, But Are They Safe?
Does the extra fuel economy come at the price of safety?
Dear EarthTalk: I`ve all of a sudden been witnessing a lot of those lil’ «Wise Cars» around. Who makes them and what is their fuel efficiency? And I`m all for fuel efficiency, but are these cars safe?
Originally the brainchild of Lebanese-born entrepreneur/inventor Nicolas Hayek of Swatch observe fame, Clever Cars are designed to be puny, fuel-efficient, environmentally responsible and effortless to park–truly the ultimate in-city vehicle. Back in 1994, Hayek and Swatch signed on with Daimler-Benz (the German maker of the venerable Mercedes line of cars) to develop the unique vehicle; in fact, the company name Clever is derived from a combination of the words Swatch, Mercedes and the word «art.»
When initial sales were slower than hoped for, Hayek and Swatch pulled out of the venture, leaving Daimler-Benz total proprietor (today Clever is part of Mercedes car division). Meantime, rising oil prices have driven up request for Brainy vehicles, and the company began selling them in the U.S. earlier this year.
Measuring just a hair over eight feet long and less than five feet broad, the company`s flagship «ForTwo» model (named for its human carrying capacity) is about half the size of a traditional car. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the car`s fuel efficiency at thirty three miles per gallon (mpg) for city driving and forty one mpg on the highway (albeit actual drivers report slightly lower results). Three ForTwos with bumpers to the curb can fit in a single parallel parking spot.
And with soaring gas prices, the cars have been selling like hotcakes in the U.S. The company`s U.S. distributor is working on importing an extra 15,000 cars before the end of 2008, as its initial order of 25,000 vehicles is almost depleted. Some four dozen Mercedes Benz dealers across the country have long waiting lists for fresh Wise vehicles, which sell for upwards of $12,000.
As for safety, the ForTwo did well enough in crash tests by the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to earn the group`s highest rating–five tars–thanks to the car`s steel racecar-style framework and liberal use of high-tech front and side airbags. Despite such good safety spectacle for such a little car, IIHS testers caution that larger, stronger cars are inherently safer than smaller ones.