Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Newsweek Shills For Smart Cars

The Smart car, a tiny two-seater produced by Mercedes-Benz, is being released in the United States, and Newsweek decided to celebrate by shilling for the supposedly socially-conscious vehicle. Newsweek allowed Smart's U.S. president David Schembri essentially free space to advertise in what is being represented as a news column.

Reporter Tara Weingarten served up softballs such as "With just two seats, it’s the perfect car for the friendless. And you don’t have to be nice and offer people rides." Weingarten also allowed Schembri to get away with such marketing-speak as,
You can help out other drivers by taking up a smaller parallel parking space, consume less fuel, thereby helping the environment, and feel great about it. Why is that bad?

Weingarten did not challenge Schembri by pointing out that parking spaces are unlikely to be resized for a car such as Smart, and thus a smaller car does not really help out any other drivers- it is more equivalent to a motorcycle taking up a single normal-sized parking space. She also failed to follow up on what was potentially her toughest question- asking Schembri about the Smart's safety features if involved in a collision with a large vehicle such as an SUV. Schembri replied that,
But the Smart will work hard to protect you. The safety management system of the Smart is a safety cell, a reinforced steel cage that acts very much like a NASCAR roll cage. You’ll notice that you sit up high, eye-to-eye with other drivers, so this also allows crash energy to be absorbed underneath the car. And there are standard safety features that are usually found only in luxury automobiles, like the electronic stability program, four front airbags, including head and thorax protection, ABS brakes and something called electronic brake-force distribution that helps the car stop fast. This is a tough car. It’s David vs. Goliath.

Weingarten allowed him a pass on that statement, instead of comparing the Smart's safety features with those of other environmentally popular vehicles such as Toyota's Prius or Honda's Civic hybrid, both of which are more standard-sized cars than the Smart. Another feature Weingarten did not discuss was the Smart's complete lack of storage space. As a musician myself, I would rather drive a car with some storage space (and maybe room for some extra band members to reduce parking) than something like the Smart that has room neither for other passengers nor for any luggage of any real consequence. But I found Weingarten's shameless enabling to be the worst part of the article. Can anyone imagine a similar scenario if the interviewee were a member of one of the US automobile companies?

Overall, it seems Newsweek's motives were more to push yet another elite-supported 'green' product than to make an attempt to provide honest and objective reporting. Cross-posted on NewsBusters.

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