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April 05, 2006

Honda and ZAP Introduce New Subcompact Cars to the United States


Photo of the Honda Fit, a small four-door hatchback.

The Honda Fit achieves 38 miles per gallon on the highway. It goes on sale on April 20th. Credit: Honda

Two subcompact cars are newly available in the United States, and though they are both fuel-sipping small cars, the stories of the two cars are dramatically different. The Honda Fit took the simple route to the United States: Honda first introduced the car in Japan in 2001, and the car has been popular in Japan and Europe for years, so Honda decided to introduce it to North America. The U.S. version was first unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in January, and last month, Honda announced that the vehicle will go on sale on April 20th with a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $13,850. The four-door hatchback features a four-cylinder engine and achieves a fuel economy of 33 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. See the Honda Fit Web site and the Honda press releases on the Fit and its sale date.

In contrast to the Fit, the "Smart Car Americanized by ZAP" took a much different route to the United States. Sold in Europe as the "smart fortwo," the 98-inch-long, two-door car is part of the smart brand owned by DaimlerChrysler. The company has been struggling to keep the smart brand profitable, and recently announced the cancellation of a larger model, the smart forfour. Considering the tough economic situation, DaimlerChrysler has not yet introduced the car in the United States. California-based ZAP, which bills itself as an "advanced automotive pioneer," sees a large U.S. market for the diminutive vehicle and has been working for years to introduce it here. Smart-Automobile LLC imports the smart car from Europe, pays a company to "Americanize" it to meet U.S. federal and state safety and emissions standards, and has named ZAP as the exclusive U.S. distributor. After many delays, ZAP is only now selling the 2005 Smart Car Americanized for ZAP, which complies with regulatory requirements in all but five states. In February, ZAP delivered 85 vehicles to U.S. dealerships, and is now selling the car in six states. The company claims the car has earned a combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 40 mpg. See the DaimlerChrysler press release, the Smart-Automobile Web site, and the ZAP press releases and Web site.

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