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Tata Gives the Go to Pixel

Set for Europe, could Indian maker also target U.S.?

by on Mar.16, 2011

The Tata Pixel reportedly gets the go for Europe. But will the Indian maker next target the U.S.?

Even by city car standards, Tata’s Pixel concept is diminutive, measuring just 10 feet nose-to-tail, or nearly a foot smaller than the Indian maker’s already compact Nano.  But there’s apparently a market to be had, Tata reportedly giving Pixel the green light for launch into the European market.

Could the States be far behind?

Tata took the wraps off the little Pixel at the recent Geneva Motor Show, and the white, gull-winged two-door proved one of the most popular concepts of the show – if for no other reason than curiosity value.

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Tata bills Pixel as “the most package-efficient four-seater in the world,” and it is, indeed, a surprisingly roomy vehicle, one that could readily hold four adults – as long as those in the back weren’t part of an NBA team.

In European trim, anticipate a weight of less than 1700 pounds.  It will help that Tata expects to remove the gull-wing doors, which require plenty of reinforcement, and replace them with conventional portals.


First Look: Smart ForSpeed

Two-seater emphasizes green performance.

by on Feb.25, 2011

Who says you can't have fun driving a battery car? Smart ForSpeed puts a premium on performance.

Daimler’s Smart brand is clearly plugging into battery power.  The maker’s new ED – short for Electric Drive – has just gone on sale here in the U.S.  And at the Geneva Motor Show, next week, Smart will offer a hint of where it might plan to take the technology going forward.

The intriguing news is that the Smart ForSpeed puts as much of a premium on performance as it does on energy efficiency.  The lithium-ion-powered two-seater reportedly can launch from 0 to 60 (kilometers an hour, that is) in just 5.5 seconds.  Getting to 60 mph takes just under 9 seconds.

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The concept relies on a compact 41-horsepower electric motor.  That might not seem like much but it helps to realize that electric propulsion generates maximum torque the moment the motor starts spinning.  But there’s also a “boost” switch on the center console that unleashes an extra 7 horsepower when you’re really hoping to burn rubber.

Smart anticipates a top speed of 75 mph for the ForSpeed and, if you’re a bit less aggressive with the throttle, range of about 85 miles.  A quick charger, it claims, can yield an 80% recharge in as little as 45 minutes.

The ultra-thin seats come with four-point belts to keep you firmly in place when you’re challenging that old-style muscle car in the next lane, by the way.


First Drive: 2011 Smart Electric Drive

Betting on batteries in Brooklyn.

by on Jun.10, 2010

Will Smart find 250 customers for the battery version of its fortwo microcar -- at twice the price and with an 82-mile range?

It’s not the traffic we find ourselves watching out for, though there’s plenty of it on the busy streets of Brooklyn, but the potholes, massive gaps in the pavement that yawn wide and threaten to engulf our entire little microcar.

It’s not a job but an adventure, at times, taking tomorrow’s cars out for a ride, though few draw as many glances – some admiring, others just agape — as the 2011 Smart fortwo Electric Drive.  Call it the ED, for short, a battery-powered version of the French-German microcar.

The auto industry, as a whole, is increasingly coming to embrace the concept of electrification, with plug-in hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt, and pure battery-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf.  Even Mercedes-Benz is exploring its options, all the way up to a battery-powered version of its SLS supercar.

But the German maker’s sibling brand, Smart, seems especially well-suited to enter the electric field, delivering a battery version of its nimble little two-seater that was already targeted to the urban market.

Smart will launch sales of 250 EDs in the U.S., late this year, complimenting the fleet of more than 1,500 it will put on the road in Europe.  Plans call for launching full retail sales in 2012 as a 2013 model.  But the maker hopes to learn a lot, by then, as the original crop of guinea pigs, er, buyers put their EDs through the rigors of daily motoring.

(Click Here to see how Smart is betting on the ED to revive the brand.)

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To get a sense of what they’re likely to discover, I headed to Brooklyn, earlier this week, where I squeezed into a fully-charged microcar alongside my colleague from, Joe Szczesny.


Can a Battery Car Recharge Smart?

Automaker launching test fleet of new electric vehicles.

by on Jun.10, 2010

Can a battery car version of the Smart fortwo help the brand keep its cool?

Few automotive brands have scored such a rapid rise – and suffered such an equally fast fall – as Smart, the microcar division of Daimler AG.  Desperately hoping to halt its ongoing slide, Smart executives are counting on an infusion of new products, including the brand’s first battery-electric vehicle.

About 250 Smart fortwo Electric Drive, or ED, models will be leased to U.S. customers over the coming months, with higher-volume sales set to begin in late 2012.  Though the Smart ED won’t do much to reverse slumping sales, it should put a halo around the brand until Smart can roll out new, conventionally-powered models closer to mid-decade.

“We are on the forefront of a revolution,” proclaimed Mark Langenbrinck, managing director of the Smart brand, during a media preview of the ED, in New York, this week.

(Click Here for the First Drive of the Smart Electric Drive.)

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Looking out over the crowded metropolis, Langenbrinck noted that a century ago half the cars on New York roads were powered by batteries.  Some experts believe that for urban applications, clean electric powertrains could again come to dominate in the years ahead.  The technology does have some advantages in a city setting, where motorists are likely to clock far fewer miles than their suburban and rural counterparts.