Smart car hits San Francisco

The Smart car, a vehicle less than nine feet long from tip to taillight, is visiting the Bay Area this month in preparation for a rollout in the first quarter of 2008.

Between its mileage and its petite parking profile, the car’s backers are hoping it will succeed in San Francisco and throughout California.

Manufactured by the Mercedes Car Group, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler AG (DAI), test drives are available today at Mercedes Benz of San Francisco at 500 Eighth St. from noon to 7 p.m., though the event is intended for dealers and invitation-holders.

Drives are also available at the same times Sunday at the Whole Foods at 1333 Newell Ave. in Walnut Creek, an event intended for the general public.

“This is the first time the cars are coming to the United States,” said Ken Kettenbeil, spokesman for distributor Smart USA, a subsidiary of Penske Automotive Group Inc. (PAG). “The Bay Area is a large market for us. Californians are very trendsetting. Fuel economy is important here.”

The cars are available in 36 other countries, and the U.S. rollout will include 50 to 75 dealerships nationwide, Kettenbeil said, with 65 percent to be in-store Mercedes-Benz dealerships and the rest to be stand-alone Smart stores. The Bay Area will have three to five stores.

At 8 feet 9.6 inches long, for many San Franciscans the car’s appeal is the ease with which it can park in the smallest of spaces. It cannot be legally parked perpindicular to the curb as it is in Europe, though, according to Municipal Transportation Agency spokeswoman Maggie Lynch.

“Parking in North Beach is consideration No. 1,” said Yana Ronin, who test-drove one Thursday.

Ronin said the 40-something miles-per-gallon gas mileage was the second consideration. She is on a $99-deposit reservation list for a car.

Also on the list are Doug Devine, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in San Francisco, and Richard Simons of San Carlos, the national president of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America. Devine said he thought it would be convenient for work to have a car that can park in many places, while Simonds said his wife wants an economical vehicle for her commute to Mountain View.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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