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Make way for the micro mobiles

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Smart USA, a division of Chrysler, was the first to debut a US microcar with the launch of the Fortwo, which rates 33 m.p.g. in the city and 41 m.p.g. on the highway, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. In its inaugural year, sales reached about 25,000 units sold in 2008 and the company expects that number to hold steady this year. An electric version will launch in 2010 in only a few US cities, with expansion scheduled for 2012. Other microcars on the horizon are the Toyota iQ, Chrysler’s Fiat 500, and Volkswagen’s Up.

Chip Snowden, an education consultant in Wilmington, Del., purchased a Fortwo in March 2008 as a secondary vehicle. Familiar with the car from trips abroad, he says he reserved his own for familiar reasons: “We were looking for something that was inexpensive to operate, didn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy, and had good gas mileage.”

But once he got into the driver’s seat, Mr. Snowden says he was surprised “at how much fun it is to drive.”

“It’s a car that’s pretty agile,” he says. “It has more power than you might think. We got it up to 75 [m.p.h.] on the Interstate. That was one of the things that surprised us.”

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