A Mercedes scooter? Not so smart

PARIS -- That buzzing noise you hear in Paris is probably an annoying scooter.

They are everywhere. And traffic rules don't mean a thing to scooter drivers, who cut off vehicles, drive between lanes and ram into the side mirrors of vehicles. The driver of a van I was in this week had to step on the brakes several times to avoid one of these two-wheeled menaces.

On the way from the Paris airport, I witnessed a motor scooter driver under a sheet. He had collided with a truck. A Frenchman who is an executive at a German premium automaker told me those kinds of accidents happen every day in Paris.

So I was a bit startled when Thomas Weber, Mercedes-Benz's board member for research and development, told me the brand was seriously considering putting the electric Smart escooter, being shown here as a concept, into production and selling it worldwide. Yes, he meant even in the United States.

Weber said the reaction at the Paris show has been so good that Mercedes is in discussions with scooter makers to produce the vehicle for Smart. A decision will be made in the coming months.

The scooter assault is bad enough in Paris, where congestion makes it a popular way to get around the city. But cars are small in Paris. And like it or not -- as the fatality I saw proved -- these two-wheeled vehicles are taken on the highway, where they often dart between lanes.

Now picture that in the United States, land of big SUVs, minivans and big cars. On the crowded highways around Manhattan that I travel, scooter drivers wouldn't stand a chance. Taxi drivers in New York wouldn't put up with their antics.

Mercedes-Benz has a reputation for building safe vehicles, but a Smart scooter is not a smart choice.

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