Cochrane firm’s add-ons make Smart cars tow-worthy
by Greg Williams, for the Calgary Herald published: Friday, May 4, 2007
photos courtesy Les McDonald
Les McDonald of Cochrane was drawn to the Smart car because of its miserly fuel consumption — little did he know the car would provide the basis for a new career.
McDonald, 37, has begun importing and in fact manufacturing aftermarket parts for the Smart car. But these aren?t just parts that add a little extra bling. These are parts that add to the ultimate utility of the diminutive automobile.
?I bought my Smart car about two years ago,? McDonald says. ?I loved it and it was so different from what I used to drive.?
What he used to drive was a V-8 powered Dodge Dakota pickup truck.
?I drove a lot for work and the gas bills were just staggering,? he says. ?I wanted to put some of my money back in my pocket.?
McDonald operates Tracker Productions. He produces high definition promotional videos and commercials and must carry with him cameras, tripods and lighting kits. He says the Smart car always accommodated the load, but he sometimes felt pinched by the lack of space.
While perusing the Internet for aftermarket Smart car parts McDonald stumbled across a German product called the Clever End. The device, which is basically a body extension, replaces the stock rear tailgate/back window and fastens to four frame anchor points, two at the top and two at the bottom. The Clever End effectively doubles the carrying capacity of the Smart car.
?I wasn?t necessarily cramped for space, and I wasn?t desperate to find something,? McDonald says. ?But I liked it because of the way it looked.?
He imported one for himself and told the company he?d like to bring them into Canada if they were interested in working with him. And they were. He?s begun importing the Clever End and will begin marketing them on his website www.smartcaruniverse.com in early June. Right now, the site is just a single page and is still under construction. (Note: The site is currently up and running, and McDonald has plenty of new parts for the Smart car. 06/11/08)
?We wanted to set up an online store and sell parts that added to the utility of the vehicle,? McDonald explains. Smart Car Universe is a great business opportunity for himself, but he also wanted to create business opportunities for other people as well.
?We?ll be setting up sales people across Canada (in markets where there is a Smart car community) who can work out of their homes if they want to, but they will represent the product and will help us focus on the service end. We don?t want to sell a product and simply say ?Good luck?.?
McDonald?s driven his Smart car across Canada twice, and once to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. His odometer now reads just over 97,000 km.
?After I test drove the Smart car I immediately bought it. Any misconceptions I had about driving that car were gone after the test drive,? McDonald says.
Following some seat time in his Smart car McDonald says he realized how capable the auto really is. So, he designed a trailer hitch that would allow him to tow either his 4.8-metre canoe trailer or a fibreglass storage trailer. Whether the car should be towing anything is a matter left open to debate, but McDonald figures it?s got a 225-to 275-kilogram towing capacity.
McDonald?s Smart car hitch is manufactured in Calgary. He approached Electromec Manufacturing Corporation with his drawings and measurements, and they fabricated a prototype hitch.
?We made a couple of changes to the prototype, and it works great,? McDonald says. ?And they will be manufacturing it for me, They brought it in at a cost that I didn?t have to outsource it (for production anywhere else).?
Together with the Smart car accessories McDonald will also be selling three different types of trailers suitable for towing behind other compact cars and motorcycles. There are two fibreglass pull-behinds and a utility trailer. These will be imported from China.
?In North America everyone is focused on trailers to pull behind trucks or vans; we had to look elsewhere for smaller units,” McDonald says.