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Europe's little 'Smart' car to hit U.S. streets

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"The Smart is as good for an 18-year-old girl as for her father," says Jean Fourier, a Smart owner in Paris pulling out his iPhone during an interview. "That's one reason I like it. But basically, it is the perfect urban vehicle."

"If you want to be a chic urban Parisian you are driving a Smart, not a big car," says Christophe Petay, a Smart dealer near the Trocadero here. "In Europe, we don't think of it as a car for the countryside. But that's tradition. Americans can drive it coast to coast."

All the rage in Europe

It took some time for the Smart to catch hold in Europe. Now, Paris sports 30,000 Smarts, and Rome 50,000.

On European city streets, the ubiquitous Smarts are like darting schools of tropical fish, or a swarm of flies, depending on the beholder's eye. Some are swathed in brightly painted ads. (Smart will lower the sticker price for buyers willing to drive around as a billboard.)

Those who love the Smart can find no faults. On Smart e-forums, owners debate a Miss Smart contest, take part in a Smart world relay race, revel in what they call "the Smart spirit," and share secrets of successful long trips.

Naysayers find the car "simply ridiculous," as one Parisan says, for reasons of aesthetics and cost. They find it a bourgeoise vanity vehicle driven by smug urbanites, and say it is family-unfriendly and pricey. "It's the car for people who won't take the metro … and who have another one to go on holiday," says Anne-Gael Moulin, a young financial consultant in Paris.

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