foot down

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 April, 2005, 12:00am


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A cavalcade of smartclub hongkong runabouts is scheduled to parade in St Stephen's Beach car park at 1pm tomorrow, and then pootle along the southside for the 2.30pm smart DIY 2005 party at the Repulse Bay, where fans will present 'DIY' creations incorporating the shape of the smartcar or logo. You might take a look, for at least two reasons.

First, we still rate the fortwo cabrio (right, $172,000) as the most sensible drive in Hong Kong for singles, couples and oldies, and again urge the government to reduce taxes on weeny, greeny cars under 1,000cc. We like the fortwo's comfortable seats, airy, dinky cabin and a 698cc engine that will get you up to the Peak and weave you through Central as fast as a supercar, and emit less carbon dioxide fug. Its gearbox is stodgy but its jerks are offset by fine interior design, happy headlight eyes and the option of membership in one of the zaniest motoring clubs in town.

Second, the smart Roadster (left), is being phased out 'due to the cost and profitability factors' at the end of the year. On Wednesday, Mercedes-Benz China said the smart SUV project would also be discontinued and the marque would focus on the fortwo and forfour.

'Smart has failed to turn a profit since its launch, amid a fanfare of publicity in 1998,' wrote Tony Paterson of Britain's Independent this week. 'German motorists, used to powerful limousines built for the autobahn, have remained sceptical of a car suited principally for city use. In recent years, only the revamped and more powerful Mini has managed to secure a significant section of the small car market.'

But Europe is not Hong Kong. We stand by our smarts because they're ideally suited here. And we slap our heads at the impending demise of the Roadster, a neat, comfy ride that sounds sportier than it is and steers like a dream in the Mid-Levels. We don't like its nannying gearbox, average rear vision and a price ($218,000) that could steer open-top addicts to the roomier four-seater Volkswagen Beetle ($268,000), punchier Mini Cooper Cabriolet ($271,800) or older convertibles such as a 1997 1.9-litre BMW Z3 (about $100,000) or a 1993 Mazda MX-5 ($40,000).

The smart Roadster isn't an Edsel, however. A hoot to drive here, it still makes a fine graduation or love token. And Mercedes-Benz China chief operating officer Jutta Aulich assures Foot Down of the Roadster's future back-up.

'Smart roadster customers can be assured of receiving continuous and seamless aftersales support, including a parts supply guarantee of at least 10 years,' she says.

Even so, fie on Daimler-Chrysler for blinking on its innovative answer to the MG Midget, Suzuki Cappuccino and Honda Beat. China's marques might have another look at this urban-showoff niche.

Mercedes-Benz China does not yek know how many of the marque's cars in southern China have been affected by this week's global recall of 1.3 million vehicles. The marque's chiefs say the move is about 'improving the quality of passenger cars already in the field'. Not a cock-up.

'We are now producing the best product quality ever and our aim is to ensure that those vehicles in the hands of customers which are the cause of complaints achieve a standard of quality that reflects our highest expectations,' says Merecedes-Benz spokesman Eckhard Cordes.

On vehicles with six- and eight-cylinder petrol engines built between June 2001 and November 2004, the voltage regulator in the alternator is being checked and if necessary replaced. On E-Class and CLS-Class models made from January 2002 to January 2005, new battery control unit software will enhance the on-board power supply. The braking systems on E-Class, SL-Class and CLS-Class models from the production period June 2001 to March 2005 are also to be updated, the marque says. Customers are being informed in writing. Inquiries: 2594 8038, Mon-Fri 9am-12.30pm, 2pm-6pm.

Finally, the attention of Hong Kong's motoring world will be fixed on the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club car park on Monday night. If white smoke drifts into the balm of Causeway Bay by 9pm, there's a fair chance that the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong will have named a new chairman, or an old Triumph TR3A's blown a gasket. A pall of black smoke could suggest a lovable MGTF (above) is idling rich or the club's members have been locked in the Compass Room for another round of voting.

Top of Foot Down's classic- car agenda would be more shows to cheer up work-weary Hong Kong and more push for a transport museum.