Smart Car Ad Wows and Underwhelms With Crushing Weight on Top

PHOTO: Chevy SUV on top of Smart car safety cage

What do you get when you put a 7,000 pound SUV on top of the frame of a sub-2,000 pound two-person Smart car?

Apparently nothing, according to a new ad by the Smart brand of cars. The ad highlights Smart's "Tridion" safety cell and shows the tiny two-passenger car's frame subjected to the much greater weight of an SUV.

"Small on size, big on safety," states the ad for the car that has been inundating cable channels like CNBC. The ads seem to suggest that the pint-sized car, less than half the size of America's full-sized sedans, has extraordinary safety features despite its size.

The company said there was no photoshop magic for the ad.

A behind-the-scenes YouTube clip shows a forklift hoisting the Ford Expedition, which weighs 7,000 pounds, on top of the Smart car's frame. In the ad, the Smart car is unbowed by the weight.

Gabriel Shenhar, senior engineer and program manager with Consumer Reports said the ad provided a "good visual," but there's "nothing unusual" about the Smart car's roof strength.

"There's no significance to that whatsoever," he said.

Smart said its Tridion safety cell "works like the roll-cage in a race car."

"Made largely of high-strength steel, the rigid tridion safety cell is designed to distribute impact energy over the entire width of the car body," the car company states. The car has eight air bags including two-stage front air bags.

However, Shenhar said "just about every modern car uses high-strength steel in strategic areas to dissipate energy of the crash around the passengers."

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Smart car its highest ratings (which is "good") for side impact and roof strength.

It gave the Smart car its second- highest rating, "acceptable," for its rear impact protection.

The IIHS' other crash rating categories are "marginal" and "poor."

IIHS measured the Smart car roof's strength-to-weight ratio and gave it a 5.4 while the the agency has a minimum ratio of 4 to garner the highest rating, according to Russ Rader, spokesman for the IIHS.

The 2013 Smart ForTwo has a curb weight of just 1,808 pounds.

"It's probably as safe as a car that small can get," said Shenhar. "And of course when all things are equal, in the laws of physics, when you have a car that weighs 1,800 pounds surrounded by cars that weigh 3,400 or 4,000 pounds, it's going to have an inherent disadvantage."

The Smart ForTwo had its best monthly sales volume so far this year with 1,030 sales overall in September, thanks in large part to high gas prices, especially in California, as well as strong lease support, said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights, Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com.

The small car segment has been increasing market share since June thanks to the late summer jump in fuel prices.

Market share for compact, subcompact and alternative-fuel vehicles jumped to 21.7 percent in September from 19.8 percent in June.

"The Smart will continue to fair well as long as fuel prices remain elevated; however, with so much competition, Smart will have its work cut out if the brand plans to capture additional market share within the segment," he said.

Consumer Reports found that standard Smart cars ran about 39 miles to the gallon and were easy to park.

Still, Shenhar said for the price ($12,490), he said he would personally buy a Honda Fit. While they are eye-catching and conversation pieces, he said "it's not a car you would want to spend a whole lot of time in mostly because its transmission is quite awful."

"It's unsmooth. It rocks you back and forth. It's very unpleasant," he said.

And just about any car on the market can withstand an equal or greater amount of weight placed on its roof. Just don't try that at home.

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