Smart ED: A Deep Dive and Test Drive of Smart's Electric Two-SeaterBy John O'Dell June 10, 2010
By John O'Dell, Senior Editor
Smart's original microcar has found its natural place in the order of things - as the Smart Fortwo ED.
The battery-electric version of the Smart people-mover (ED stands for Electric Drive) seems ideal for the daily commuting and runabout needs of the tens of millions of car owners who live and work in the world's big cities.
All that's needed is a place to plug it in and a price tag that won't make prospective customers choke on their chocolattamocha grande lattes.
Both are tall orders to fill, but Smart isn't alone - the entire EV community is working to reduce component costs and to encourage installation of public charging networks in most major cities and along major intercity highway corridors.
From the top down, the crew at SmartUSA, which treated us to a half-day of Smart ED drives in Brooklyn, NY, earlier this week, is keeping mum on pricing possibilities for a car that won't hit the retail market here until 2012.
But Jill Lajdziak, Smart USA's president, did allow as how the present plan to lease just 250 Smart EDs in the U.S. for a 4-year term at a whopping $599 a month isn't representative of what the retail price might be.
The lease price is for a test program that will begin in the U.S. in October and concentrate on corporate fleet customers (80 percent) with a few individual leases tossed in (20 percent) for balance.
When retail pricing for 2012 (as 2013 models) is announced, it will reflect larger volumes of vehicles and the accompanying economies of scale, Lajdziak told us in an interview. We think that in autoexec talk that means cheaper than $599 a month.
We sure hope so! The Nissan Leaf 5-seat EV will lease for $349 a month.
The Phase III Smart ED cars will be a bit different by then as well.
The EDs we drove and that will be part of the U.S. leasing program (which, in turn, is part of a larger 1,500-car global Smart ED lease program for this year and next) are Euro-spec cars using Smart's Phase II battery system.
That's the lithium-ion battery pack developed for Smart by Tesla Motors. It replaced the earlier sodium-nickel chloride Zebra battery that was part of an electric drive system developed by Great Britain's Zytek and used in the first-phase Smart test models.
The Phase III, or retail, cars will use a Daimler-developed battery and while Smart testing chief Jochen Eck told us it won't add much in the way of range or power, we'd not be surprised to see the present maximum range of 82 miles per charge bumped a bit closer to 100 miles by the time the retail Smart EDs are launched.
The Numbers Now
For now, we know that the Tesla-built pack has 16.5 kilowatt-hours of usable power. Smart won't disclose total battery size, but we suspect it is somewhere around 20 kWh.
(To extend their life, expensive lithium-ion batteries for EVs are not designed to be fully discharged, so usable power is less than total capacity and can range from 50 percent to 95 percent of total capacity depending on battery chemistry and battery pack design).
The ED's Phase II battery pack spins a 30 kilowatt electric drive motor that delivers 20 kilowatts of power continuously (that's about 26 horsepower) but boosts to short bursts of 30 kilowatts - 41 horsepower - when the go pedal is floored.
The drive motor delivers 88 ft-lb of torque (119 newton meters), sufficient for 0-60 kilometers per hour (37 mph) acceleration in 6.5 seconds.
The battery pack can be charged to 80 percent capacity in 3.5 hours via a 220-volt outlet; it takes 8 hours to bring it up to 100 percent state of charge. A common 110-volt outlet also can be used, but charging then takes slightly longer than forever.
The Phase III cars in 2012 will use the new J1772 U.S. standard connector for charging - meaning they will be able to use a variety of commercial and residential chargers, if such a variety exists.
Lajdziak assured us that SmartUSA is working with other EV makers, government agencies and power companies to help foster rapid development of a charging infrastructure - something that governments and utilities in Europe already have started pushing.
For this week's media drives, Smart was parking its EDs outside a Brooklyn restaurant and using the building's power for charging.
But a ChargePoint street charger from California's Coulomb Technologies was on display - a nod to the recently announced government grant under which Coulomb will install 2,600 public chargers in seven states and will give a total of 2,000 home chargers to buyers (or lessees) of Smart EDs, Ford Transit Connect EVs and Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids in those states.
One of those states is California, and we're glad because that means it will be easier for us to get a Smart ED for Edmunds' test fleet if the budget gods so deign.
That will be fun because we could put one to its highest and best use in the awful traffic congestion that makes driving a normal car around the company's Westside LA neighborhood an experience just short of horrendous.
It won't be as bad, though, as the mess we were exposed to in Brooklyn - more specifically the Prospect Park and Dumbo neighborhoods (stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) - where narrow, tree-shaded residential streets lined with 19th Century brownstones are made near-impassible by the locals' wonderful habit of double-parking.
(Given that it was mid-morning on a work day, best we could figure is that there are a lot of coffee klatches and illicit affairs being conducted by those staying at home - and that someone on each block must be the designated key concierge so that cars can be juggled when people parked against the curb need to get out.)
The Smart is a microcar, but even in its tiny-ness things felt squeezed as we maneuvered though those tightly packed residential streets, feeling a sense of awe for the skills Brooklyn trash truck and fire engine drivers must possess. Still, we didn't scrape or scratch, so score one for small.
Traffic wasn't particularly congested in the business districts - we were driving in the late morning and early afternoon, not at rush hour - and on those streets the Smart ED held its own as well.
While not loaded with horsepower, the torque-y electric drive system enabled us to leap across intersections before the notoriously impatient Brooklynites behind us could lean on their horns - which they seem to do with little or no provocation.
The Smart ED's quick steering and diminutive dimensions let us zip around double-parkers, fire engines, crazed parking spot seekers and some amazingly deep potholes with the same astounding agility as the conventional gas and diesel models exhibit.
The entire powertrain is packaged under the seats and cargo area floor - which gives the car a low center of gravity for great footing - and it doesn't take away any interior space.
At about 2,00 pounds, the battery-electric Smart ED is 308 pounds heavier than the gasoline version, but the extra weight isn't apparent at city speeds.
In fact, it might have helped pin us more tightly to the tarmac as we learned to drive like New Yorkers whose streets we were sharing (that would be inconsiderately, with little regard for lane markers, turn signal use or the concept of keeping a bit of space between vehicles).
Where the extra weight did make itself apparent was on the pitted and pockmarked streets. Coupled with the additional poundage, the Smart ED's short wheelbase and tight suspension can mean a rough ride on bumpy roads.
A Smarter Smart
One big plus is that with its single-speed transmission the Smart ED doesn't exhibit the 'tween shifts jerkiness of its ICE stablemate with the automated manual transmission.
The regenerative braking appears to be dialed-in just right and we didn't notice any unusual pedal feel or scary stopping characteristics.
Exept for the dash-mounted battery and state-of-charge meters, the Smart Fortwo ED's interior is identical to the conventional Smart's - nice but not luxurious, with comfortable bucket seats, lots of legroom and a small-but-not-too-small cargo area behind the seats.
One plus, at least for iPhone users, is a new $10 SmartDrive app that lets you use your Apple phone - docked just to the right of the vents on the center stack - to manage music, make hands-free calls, navigate and check on battery charging characteristics including real-time state of charge and time 'til charging is complete.
In the works is a feature for that application that would show the location of public chargers on the phone screen. Neat.
Overall, we found the Smart Fortwo ED to be roomy for two - no shoulder rubbing - and zippy enough to do its primary job of carrying commuters and shoppers for relatively short distances with the bare minimum of environmental impact.
One thing we question, though, is the name.
We're looking at a big improvement over the original Smart, and Smart ED doesn't get that across. The plug-in Smart is part of a coming electric revolution in transportation.
Perhaps they ought to call it the SmartER.
Like many new-to-the-market EVs, it is likely to be difficult to economically justify buying a Smart ED for the first few years it is in the market, until volume helps drive down the cost (and there's no way anyone can break even on the $599, 4-year lease that begins here in October for the Phase II test cars).
Even with no maintenance to speak of, and fuel costs that are about a tenth of what gasoline costs at today's pump prices, you are going to have to be a dedicated electric-drive proponent who considers the psychic rewards of petroleum-free, low-carbon driving (and perhaps easier access to parking spaces in crowded cities) as benefits sufficient to offset the economic penalty of an EV's higher initial price.
And, of course, if gasoline hits $4.50 gallon (or more) again - a situation many believe is a matter of when rather than if - or as petroleum for personal transportation becomes an endangered concept, you'll be awfully glad you're driving an EV as your friends start wearing out shoe leather.