By Al Haas, For The Inquirer
Posted: September 29, 2014
PARIS - On Avenue Montaigne, the heart of this city's fashion district, sits the Hotel Athénée, where rooms start at $1,820 a night.
On this particular sun-laved September afternoon, there was a Bugatti Veyron parked in front of the hotel entrance. The Bugatti is the fastest, most powerful production car on Earth. When equipped with the 1,200-horsepower, 16-cylinder engine, it will top 250 m.p.h. - and $2 million.
Parked nearby were five chauffeurs in white shirts and black German sedans, awaiting the return of their employers.
Sounds like rather upmarket turf, don't you think? But wait. Across the street from the Athénée, in front of Dior's flagship store, was a row of three parked smart fortwos, tiny two-seaters that start at $13,270 in our country. And there were two more just down the street, in front of the Giorgio Armani showroom. And just off Montaigne, on Rue Jean Goujon, I found six parked smart cars in a single block.
And I spotted a couple in front of the LVMH building, the headquarters of Bernard Arnaud's fashion empire, which includes Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Céline.
As it turns out, this tiny Mercedes-Benz vehicle is very popular in Paris. In fact, it's absolutely ubiquitous. And there's good reason for that. With its congested, often narrow, streets and its paucity of parking, Paris is the kind of town this city car was designed for. Only 106 inches long (a Toyota Camry is 189) and with a curb-to-curb turning radius of 28.7 feet (the Camry's is 36.7) the smart car is a very maneuverable urbanite. Its short length also means it can get into parking spaces too small for virtually anything else.
As beloved as it seems to be in Paris, the smart car has received a rather tepid welcome in this country. Mercedes sold 9,264 smart coupés and convertibles in the United States last year, which isn't exactly an eyebrow-arching number. Part of the reason is our national aversion to minicars. Only recently, and rather grudgingly, have we started buying relatively roomy compact cars in substantial numbers. But minicars? How many smart fortwos, Toyota IQs, and Chevy Sparks have you seen on the road?
Smart car in a small package - Philly.com