American Car Buffs Want Extremes

By: Anthony Fontanelle

According to the observers in the auto industry, buffs want extremes. This is why automakers are producing cars that spell contradictions. And more of them will be introduced to the industry in the coming years.

Though automakers are obligated to comply with the government standards, it is still undeniable that the consumers' dictates are more controlling. But consumers have different, sometimes contradictory desires. To clear confusion, automakers are offering a wide variety of vehicles.

Smart, a micro-car, was introduced to the market to satisfy the cravings for small autos. The car is "in no way would have been offered in the United States 10 years ago," said Anders Sundt Jensen, global marketing director for Smart, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz. "It would have been impossible to bring that car here then. How could we possibly have done that? You had the world's cheapest gasoline."

The introduction of Smart micro-car is bolstered by the peaking gasoline prices. The need to shift to small cars made Americans think Smart.

"The little car, with an initial U.S. allotment of about 30,000, is sold out in the United States through 2008, said David Schembri, president of Smart USA. "We're walking a fine line between customers who are waiting too long for a Smart and those who are willing to wait long enough."

Schembri told Hartford Courant Smart USA is launching an "It Pays to Wait" communications campaign to help placate customers who are eager to get the tiny, two-seat car that can get up to 40 miles per gallon in highway cruising and easily can be parked in the most congested urban environment.

But Jensen and Schembri are worried the waiting will push prospective customers into the rivals' showrooms. To stress, Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co. are selling fuel-efficient little cars in the United States.

The maker of , meanwhile, has a different setback. General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac division, known for its exciting offers, has to produce hot cars to sustain customers' appetite. That means the automaker has to come up with more captivating auto designs, more oomph, more fuel-efficient, and affordable cars.

Pontiac, like other automakers, has to satisfy two gods, the government and the consumers. To displease the government means to weighty fines. To displease the consumers, on the other hand, means lousy sales and negative publicity.

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