Get Smart: Business owner brings Smart Car to Winnebago County

Alex Gary

The owner of a Loves Park sign company appears to be the first local owner of the new Mercedes-Benz-built Smart Car manufactured specifically for United States roadways.

Jeff Jacobs picked it up over the weekend from Loeber Motors in Lincolnwood, one of just two Smart Car dealerships in Illinois. The first batch of orders hit the 68 dealers in 31 states this week.

Josh Dreyer, brand manager at Loeber, said Tuesday that about 25 customers have picked up their cars in their first week of operations and Jacobs was the first customer from Rockford to receive one of the cars, although several other Rockford customers have them on order. The other Illinois dealership is in Lake Bluff.

“I took a trip to Europe a few years ago and saw (Smart Cars) in Rome,” Jacobs said. “They are everywhere in Europe, and I just fell in love with them.”

Jacobs, one of the owners of Jacobs Signs on Windsor Road, wanted to bring a Smart Car back to the U.S. but learned the cars needed modifications to be licensed for U.S. roads. There are several thousand of these modified Smart Cars, called “gray market” cars on the roadways nationwide, including that of Stillman Valley’s John Harris, who bought a gray-market Smart Car in spring of 2007.

But last March, Daimler AG started taking orders for Smart Cars specifically built to U.S. safety regulations and Jacobs ordered right away.

The Smart Fortwo, which Jacobs purchased, is the shortest car now in production — less than nine feet long — and is 700 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper. It isn’t a hybrid or electric car. The two-seat car has a three-cylinder combustion engine that uses premium fuel, and it allows the Smart Fortwo to get 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 miles on the highway. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is the third most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S., trailing just the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid.

When you factor in purchase price, though, the Smart is even smarter.

A base 2008 Prius starts at $21,000, while the Honda Civic Hybrid starts at $22,600. There are federal and state incentives available for both the Prius and Civic Hybrid that lowers that cost, but still the Smart Fortwo’s base price is $11,300. Jacobs ended up buying a mid-level Smart Fortwo Passion with some extras, including heated seats and surround sound that boosted the price to about $14,500.

“I live out on Simpson Road, and I figured out that I’d save $120 to $150 a month on gas by driving the Smart rather than my Toyota 4Runner,” Jacobs said of his daily commute from an unincorporated neighborhood southwest of Rockford to Loves Park.

Daimler AG, the former parent company of Chrysler LLC, hasn’t said what it is expecting in sales, but about 30,000 buyers paid $99 refundable deposits to reserve one of the cars.

Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary may be reached at or at 815-987-1339.

How to get the Smart Car

If you’d like to buy one of the tiny Smart Fortwo cars, you can’t find them here. You have to order them through Smart Car of America’s Web site and then wait — the list is still in the 10-month range — until it is shipped to the dealer that covers your area.

The first wave of Smart Fortwos built specifically for United States roadways began showing up last week at the nearly 70 dealerships in 31 states. There are just two dealerships in Illinois.