(CBS) – When it comes to better gas mileage, size matters. The “ForTwo” is the latest “micro-car” to try to fill the need for improved fuel efficiency, reports CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.

“Americans have never been more ready for this car, the right car, right place at the right time,” said Dave Schembri of Smart USA.

Driving this small car saves gas by averaging 40 miles per gallon, almost double fuel efficiency standards. And the sleek compact, set to hit U.S. streets next January, is half the weight of average cars.

“People with families would probably use this as a commuter car,” said Schembri.

But getting drivers to think smaller is a huge challenge. Americans love their space. Cars are roomier and heavier than they were a generation ago. Despite the improvement in technology, gas mileage in similar car models has actually gotten worse.

In 1986, a Honda Civic CRX could get 52 miles per gallon in the city and 57 miles on the highway. A 2007 Civic only gets 30 miles in the city and 40 on the open road. The new Civic is nearly three feet long and weighs almost half a ton more.

The major reason: safety standards.

“Inside this new Civic is chock full of safety equipment, front airbags, side airbags, a curtain, antilock brakes,” said Csaba Csere, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine.

That equipment adds 700 pounds and limits the ability of cars to get more miles per gallon.

Now Congress is looking to force automakers to increase mileage standards. A proposed new law would mandate that manufacturers achieve an average of 35 miles per gallon across their entire fleet of cars and trucks.

Last week, automakers testified that goal was not realistic.

“What Congress needs to do if it wants to consume less fuel is to encourage consumers to use less fuel by adding a gas tax,” said Csere.

Energy conservationists support Congress’ proposed new fuel standards but agree that solving the problem may hinge more changing consumer culture.

“At some point, we have to be responsible ourselves,” said Kateri Callahan of Alliance to Save Energy. “We have to drive smaller, drive less and decrease demand.”

Decrease demand for more fuel and more space in hopes of getting more miles on the road and more people driving small cars.