Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Smart Surf Car?

The other day I passed by a “smart” car with a surfboard on top, and I thought to myself “Only in Southern California.”
Sign of the times? Or is it a reflection of the wave of trendy “eco” conscious inhabitants who have flooded the coast in the last few years? Perhaps it’s both.
Outrageous gas prices, combined with a deteriorating environment, have us all in a quandary of how we are going to breathe better. Alternative fuel vehicles may be one of the many solutions.  The “smart” car may not be the best way to curb our insidious appetite for  Middle East oil,  but it’s a start. Originally the brainchild of Lebanese-born entrepreneur/inventor Nicolas Hayek of Swatch watch fame, smart cars are designed to be small, fuel-efficient, environmentally responsible and easy to park.
For example, the Smart ForTwo is the most fuel-efficient gasoline-engined car for sale in the United States. The car – which is a little over eight feet long and less than five feet wide – gets about  33 miles per gallon (mpg) for city driving and 41 mpg on the highway.
Every time my 9-year-old son sees a smart car he says, “I don’t think they are very smart. They look dangerous.” Good point. As for safety, the ForTwo did well enough in crash tests by the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to earn five stars – the group’s highest rating. The mini car has a steel racecar-style frame and high-tech front and side airbags. Despite such good safety performance for a small car, IIHS testers caution that larger, heavier cars are inherently safer than smaller ones.  Duh!
Is the smart car a smart choice for drivers who are concerned about the environment as well as their wallet? Judge for yourself: The price tag can range from about $12,000 to $17,000 (minus the surf racks).
Then there’s Nissan’s new 100-percent electric vehicle the Leaf (I actually saw one today in front of me as I was getting on the freeway).  San Diego, my hometown, is among a handful of cities chosen for the roll-out of the Leaf. Other regions include Seattle, Portland, Phoenix/Tucson, and Chattanooga/Knoxville, Tennessee. Late last year,  San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) announced it will work with Electric Transportation Engineering Corp. (eTec) and others on the roll-out of 1,500 public and commercial and  1,000 home base electric charging stations across the county to help support the Leaf and other electric vehicles.
The Leaf is  far cry  the early electric vehicles, such as the 1902 Wood's Phaeton, which was basically an electrified horseless carriage and surrey. The Phaeton had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph and cost $2,000.
Today, as the industry and we as a society define new alternatives in transportation and make a true passionate statement on conservation and environmental awareness, I hope that the same mistakes won’t be made as in the 1990s. If you haven’t seen it already, check out the 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car?,  which explores the creation, limited commercialization, and subsequent destruction of the  battery electric vehicle in the United States, specifically the General Motors EV1 in the mid 1990s. The film brilliantly depicts the roles of automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, the U.S. government, California government, batteries, and  consumers in limiting the development and adoption of this technology. Check out the web site here. Below is a You Tube trailer of the film. 

As I zip around town in my Honda Element (which, until gas prices soared above $4 a gallon, I thought had decent gas mileage), I think about what my vehicle of choice would be  if I could only have one. And, of course, it would be one of the most eco sound of them all, one that requires no fuel, and that’s a surfboard.
Just for kicks, here's a photo of a pimped out “woody’ smart car  I found on the Internet. 


  1. Great article! I've noticed a lot of surfers driving the Jetta Wagon Tdi, and that is said to get nearly 45mpg, which is similar to the Smart Car. But you get way more space and safety. And you don't have to install a charger in your house. I just talked myself into one!

  2. Thanks! Congrats on the new 'smart" surf ride! What color? More space and safety, along with excellent MPG are always good in my book! Oh and less pressure on the grid is always nice too....I've had two VW's in my life--one a '61 ragtop bug and a Fox. Loved both cars but they didn't get this type of gas mileage. I'm really partial to hybrids at the moment and hope that auto makers will design more. It will be fascinating to see what comes of this growing renewable energy space....stay tuned!

  3. Totally kool!!! Yep...my Element is not traveling as much these day either. Loves ya's muches~

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