For most Smart car buyers, the mini-subcompact from Daimler-Benz represents a cleverly-designed, affordable, gas-sipping runabout. It offers “unparalleled dexterity in cramped urban settings,” according to Car and Driver magazine, and is “miniaturized motoring exemplified.” For others, however, the Smart car is a presumptuous know-it-all that needs to mind its own business – the business of being a reliable, non-sentient transportation device with an internal combustion engine and absolutely no recourse to an emergent mind or will.
A young couple from Seattle recently wrote to Dr. Thomas Weber, head of group research and development at Daimler AG, demanding a full
refund on their purchase. Part of the letter reads:
“…the implication, we thought, was that this is an intelligently designed car, and the name ‘Smart car’ could be a reflection of our own good taste and concern for the environment. We didn’t actually think the car was self-conscious, capable of analytical thought and able to build a Maslowian hierarchy of needs. Who wants a car that won’t start because it’s ’embarrassed’ about its dirty windshield? It’s more vain and insolent than my 15-year-old daughter, and I won’t have it.”
Among cars, the line between performing in accordance with strict mechanical laws and acting like a prima donna or nagging mother-in-law is
crossed by the Smart car more than any other vehicle. According to JD Power and Associates, one in three owners have reported an “unwanted intrusion on their personal affairs” by the Smart car, with one in 10 saying the Smart car was “arrogant and condescending,” in its treatment of its owner.
Another complaint to Daimler AG reads, in part:
“…I need a car that can make a goddamned left turn when I turn the steering wheel to the left, and not hesitate or speed off in another direction when I try to turn into the Krispy Kreme parking lot. Yes, I know I need to lose weight, but I want a doughnut and that is my choice, not that of a precocious 1-year-old rally red coupe with the optional surround sound system and center console storage.”
In comparison, similar claims were made by very few owners of the “affable and extremely cooperative” Chevy Silverado 2500HD, sometimes called the Gomer Pyle of big trucks. With its Vortec V8 and 380 foot-pounds of torque, the new Chevy is a red-blooded American workhorse that won’t let you down when you’ve got a job to do – and it won’t sass you, ever, according to designers.
“Please note that we don’t mean it actually has red blood, with blood cells and plasma, and proteins and enzymes,” says GM engineering chief, Gerald Knox. “It runs on gas and oil. This is, first and foremost, a machine, with no vestige of consciousness.”
Many owners, however, have praised the Smart car’s deductive reasoning abilities, and don’t mind its sometimes-overbearing demeanor. Some have even gone as far to say the Smart car has helped them improve their personal lives.
One happy buyer wrote to Daimler AG:
“…I was driving around with my girlfriend, Gina. She was trying to tell me my husband was cheating on me. I didn’t believe her. Suddenly, my Smart car swerved into the right lane, took the next exit and steered itself – and us – right over to my husband’s secretary’s house: there was his car in the driveway! I started to cry as the stereo started playing “It’s all over now, baby blue,” by Bob Dylan, and the stereo wasn’t even on. Thank you, Smart car, for showing me what a jerk my husband is (was). I’m now single and loving it!”
Also, designers at Daimler are quick to point out that a Smart car in China recently presented a tentative proof of the Riemann Hypothesis in mathematics, while a team of Belgian Smart cars are currently doing ground-breaking work on the auto-catalyst reaction system and chirality in amino acids and sugars.