Video: Domino's branch gets 'smart'

Grant Welker

Pizza delivery cars usually aren’t head-turners. Seth Hockert-Lotz’s are.

The luckiest of the 17 drivers at the Domino’s Pizza on South Main Street in Fall River, Mass., have been driving a smart car short enough to fit two to a parking space, efficient enough to double delivery gas mileage and unusual enough to grab attention on every corner.

“Some people will let you go first at an intersection so they can watch you go by,” said Hockert-Lotz, the owner of the branch for 23 years.

The bright yellow "smart fortwo passion coupe" arrived about two weeks ago. With 900 miles on it, the $13,590 car gets about 30 miles per gallon in the city and was the solution for Hockert-Lotz’s environmentally friendly goal.

“Part of being a leader is to lead by example,” he said while eyeing his new car in the parking lot outside the store.

For a while, Hockert-Lotz researched efficient cars for deliveries but found hybrids and electric cars either too costly or unpractical. The little car with the three-cylinder engine can reach 90 mph, according to smart car’s Web site.

The tiny coupe is as tall as most cars but is only 5.1 feet wide and 8.8 feet long — compact enough to fit two in an average parking space, the car’s manufacturer says. The cars went on sale in the United States in January.

The South Main Street Domino’s has several store-owned cars that deliver about 60 percent of all pizzas, Hockert-Lotz said. Most stores in the chain don’t have a company fleet, but Hockert-Lotz hopes his can include other efficient cars in the future.

The average-sized car can fit about 90 pizzas, but even with the passenger seat folded flat, the two-seat smart fortwo can fit only 36, which is a drawback when delivering to larger community events, Hockert-Lotz said.

The 2008 smart fortwo achieved the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front and side crashes and comes with four airbags, smart says.

The 71-horsepower, rear-wheel drive, little-car-that-could doesn’t lack power, smooth driving or visibility, Hockert-Lotz said. In fact, he added, it can actually feel roomier than some cars.

Smart has two models similar to the fortwo passion coupe — the basic pure coupe and the top-of-the-line convertible passion cabriolet for $16,590. Smart Center Boston, the Herb Chambers smart car dealership in Somerville, Mass., where Hockert-Lotz picked up his coupe, has sold about 250 since January, and the wait can be as long as a year or more, said Umer Iqbal, the dealership’s brand manager.

“We’re sold out for all practical purposes,” Iqbal said.

Smart, made by Mercedes-Benz, doesn’t stock its dealership lots, instead making the cars as people order them, he said. Smartusa.com offers online reservations for $99, with the ability to specify interior and exterior colors and other features.

“We get a lot of oohs and aahs,” he added. “The only complaints are from people who don’t have them.”

Others have used smart cars in real estate or wrap the cars in company advertisements, Iqbal said.

The Somerville dealership is one of 74 nationwide. There are also dealerships in Lynnfield,  Mass., Warwick, R.I., and two in Connecticut. Only about 25,000 cars were included in the first U.S. production run, Iqbal said.

E-mail Herald News writer Grant Welker atgwelker@heraldnews.com.