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Smart uses a lowercase logotype in its branding and a logo incorporating the letter "c" for "compact" and an arrow for "forward thinking".
The design concept for Smart's automobiles began in the late 1980s, associated with Swatch. After a period of backing by Volkswagen, the first model was finally launched by Daimler-Benz in October 1998. Several variants on the original design have been introduced, with the original design, called the Fortwo, now in its second generation and available as an electric version.
Smart models are marketed globally, including in Asia, North and South America, Australia and in Europe — and have been the basis for conversions and design modifications by third parties, including electric conversions and performance upgrades. Brabus-tuned production models are widely available.
In the late 1980s, SMH (makers of the Swatch brand of watches) CEO Nicolas Hayek began developing an idea for a new car using the same type of manufacturing strategies and personalization features used to popularize Swatch watches. He believed that the automotive industry had ignored a sector of potential customers who wanted a small and stylish city car. This idea soon became known as the "Swatchmobile". Hayek's private company Hayek Engineering AG began designing the new car for SMH, with seating for two and a hybrid drivetrain.
While design of the car was proceeding, Hayek feared existing manufacturers would feel threatened by the Swatchmobile. Thus, rather than directly competing, he preferred to cooperate with another company in the automotive industry. This would also relieve SMH of the cost burden in setting up a distribution network. Hayek approached several automotive manufacturers and on July 3, 1991, he reached an agreement with Volkswagen to share development of the new project.
By 1993, Ferdinand Piëch had become CEO of Volkswagen and he immediately sought to terminate the project with SMH. Volkswagen had already been working on their own "three-litre car": a car which would consume three litres of fuel per 100 km of driving (the eventual Volkswagen Lupo 3L). Volkswagen's own concept was believed to be a better business proposition, featuring four seats and more cargo room.
Hayek had suspected that Piëch would seek to end the agreement with SMH upon his ascendancy to the CEO position; therefore, he discreetly began approaching other car companies with the Swatchmobile project. Rebuffed by BMW, Fiat, General Motors and Renault, he finally reached an informal agreement with Daimler-Benz AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars.
A deal was announced on March 4, 1994, at a press conference at Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart that the companies would join forces in founding Micro Compact Car AG (MCC). 49% of the initial capital of 50 million Swiss francs were provided by SMH and the remaining 51% by Daimler-Benz. The company consisted of two subsidiaries: MCC GmbH based in Renningen (a suburb of Stuttgart) which would design the car, and the then-unnamed manufacturing plant. SMH Auto SA, owned by Hayek, would design a hybrid electric drive system for the car, while Hayek Engineering would audit the design and manufacturing.
The press conference also featured the debut of two concept cars: the eco-sprinter and eco-speedster, styled by Mercedes-Benz's design studio in California. The cars were similar to the eventual Smart City-Coupé. No mention was made of the fact that SMH had no input in the design of these concepts, and they were badged as Mercedes-Benzes.
Three co-directors were immediately named to head the new company: designer and engineer Johann Tomforde and financial administrator Christoph Baubin from Daimler-Benz, and marketing manager Hans Jürg Schär, who spearheaded the original Swatch marketing campaigns in the mid-1980s. Tomforde had been working on the Mercedes City Car (coincidentally abbreviated MCC) project at Daimler-Benz since 1990, which produced the aforementioned eco-sprinter and eco-speedster concepts as well as the Vision-A concept, which eventually became the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
One of the first controversies at MCC was the name of the car itself. Nicolas Hayek insisted it retain 'Swatch' in some way: "Swatchmobile", or "Swatch Car". Daimler-Benz refused, and pushed for a neutral name. The final name settled upon was Smart, an acronym that had been previously used internally by MCC for Swatch Mercedes Art.
By May 1994, the co-directors had identified 74 potential sites for the assembly plant. The final site was announced on December 20, 1994: Hambach, France. The purpose-built factory quickly gained the nickname "Smartville".
Tomforde devised a modular system of assembly for the car, insisting suppliers design and assemble, and even install their own modules onto the final car, at the new plant using their own employees thus reducing the cost overhead for the parent companies and divesting MCC of the financial and legal liabilities for those parts. It also provided a fiscal framework whereby MCC could share the development costs with the suppliers, rather than having to fund the entire project themselves. MCC secured contracts with suppliers to design and supply almost all parts of the car: seats by Faurecia, interiors by VDO, chassis and door modules by Magna, door panels by Dynamit Nobel, and suspension by Krupp.
Despite offloading a substantial amount of the development on the suppliers MCC required more capital. Recapitalization by Daimler-Benz increased their share of ownership in the company to 81%, leaving SMH with only the remaining 19%.
The assembly plant opened October 27, 1997, with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting by then-French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Introduction of the new Smart city-Coupé was planned for March, 1998, however dynamic instability of the prototypes prompted Daimler-Benz to announce postponing the launch until October, 1998. Johann Tomforde was replaced as chief engineer by Gerhard Fritz. Fritz lowered the centre of gravity, widened the track, stiffened the suspension, changed the steering, and added ballast weight to the front of the car in order to increase its stability in emergency avoidance manoeuvres (notably the Swedish "moose test").
The car launched successfully in nine European countries in October 1998, however the final design did not fulfill Hayek's expectations. Hayek pushed for a hybrid drivetrain but the final product used a relatively conventional gasoline engine. Shortly afterward Daimler-Benz bought out SMH's remaining stake in the company. MCC was now a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz (which soon merged with Chrysler Corporation to become DaimlerChrysler). The office in Biel was shut down and operations were consolidated at the MCC GmbH design centre in Germany. On January 1, 1999, MCC GmbH changed its name to MCC smart GmbH, and by 2000, it dropped the last vestiges of the association with SMH, becoming smart GmbH.
The model line was eventually expanded to include the Roadster a rear-engine, rear-drive and four-door, four-seat supermini aptly named Forfour (the original City-Coupé was rechristened Fortwo to fit the new naming scheme).
The ambitious expansion did not increase profits at the company: indeed, smart GmbH lost nearly 4 billion euros from 2003 to 2006. Plans were enacted to increase the company's profitability and integrate its operations with DaimlerChrysler.
In 2005, DaimlerChrysler decided against purchasing a 50% share in the Dutch NedCar plant used to manufacture the ForFour, ending its production. A planned SUV called Formore was terminated as the assembly plant in Brazil was being fitted with machines, and production of the Roadster was discontinued. In 2006, after dwindling sales and heavy financial losses, Smart GmbH was liquidated and its operations were absorbed by DaimlerChrysler directly.
Apart from the original short Smart Fortwo, a sporty Smart Roadster, a limited production of 2000 erstwhile concept Smart Crossblade and a supermini Smart Forfour were also offered. These have now been discontinued. There were also plans to introduce the French made cross-over based on the body of the ForFour and the AWD hardware of the Mercedes C-class with the name of Formore but industrialization of this was cancelled at the 11th hour (even as tooling was being installed in the assembly plant) due to unfavourable exchange rate swings and spending cutbacks driven by losses elsewhere within Smart.
|1998–2000||Smart City-Coupé & City-Cabrio* (*from 2000)|
|2001–2007||Smart City-Coupé & City-Cabrio (renamed Fortwo in 2004)|
|2001–2004||Smart K (Japan only)|
|2008–present (in limited trials)||Smart Fortwo ED (formerly known as EV)|
An all-electric version of the fortwo, the Smart Fortwo electric drive (previously known as Smart ED), began development in 2006. Field testing began in London with 100 units in 2007, and the second generation, with a total of 2,000 units produced, was introduced in 2009 and available in 18 markets around the world for leasing or through the Car2Go carsharing service in San Diego and Amsterdam. Production of the second-generation Smart Fortwo electric drive began in November 2009, in Hambach, France. The Smart EDs have a lithium-ion battery provided by Tesla Motors with capacity of 14 kilowatt-hours (50 MJ). The range of a fully charged battery is up to 135 kilometres (84 miles) under the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) cycle. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's official all-electric range is 63 miles (101 km) and rated the Smart ED with a combined fuel economy of 87 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (mpg-e) (2.7 L gasoline equivalent/100 km; 104 mpg-imp gasoline equivalent).
The third-generation Smart electric drive is scheduled to be launched in the U.S. and Europe by the second quarter of 2013 and Daimler AG plans to mass-produce the electric car with availability in 30 markets worldwide. The third-generation Smart electric drive was unveiled at the September 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. Key differences with the second-generation model include a more powerful electric motor, which improves acceleration and top speed, a new lithium-ion battery pack that will allow to increase the range to 140 kilometres (87 mi), and an option for quick-charge will be available.
Older Smart cars equipped with engine sizes smaller than 660 cubic centimetres (40 cu in) fit into the Kei car category of cars in Japan, and are eligible for a range of lower taxes. However, recent models with a larger engine do not meet the Kei qualifications. Because of high taxation on older cars in Japan, many older used Smart cars are exported to other countries with right-hand drive, like Great Britain and South Africa. An official version of the Smart Fortwo called the 'Smart K' has been released to fit the Kei car category. English musician Steve Appleton is featured in a Smart TV commercial, running in Japan during 2010.
Since 29 November 2010, Smart Fortwo cars are available in Indonesia with PT. Mercedes-Benz Indonesia (MBI) as the authorized dealer. Currently, MBI offers three models: Pure Coupe, Passion Coupe, and Passion Cabriolet, and can be purchased in Jakarta and Bali. Indonesia is also the first country in Southeast Asia to have the Smart Electric Drive, which has been lent to the Government of DKI Jakarta for a one-year period and can be extended for further indefinite period by a signed agreement between PT. Mercedes-Benz Indonesia, PT. Siemens Indonesia, and the Government of DKI Jakarta. The Smart ED will then serve as a pilot project to prove the effectivity of zero-emission car usage that can utilize alternative sources of energy.
The smart fortwo was introduced in Canada in late 2004 and was sold through Mercedes-Benz dealers. Demand was initially heavy with up to 6-month waiting lists in major urban areas in the spring of 2005. The vehicle has been especially popular for commuters, small car fanatics, people needing light delivery and service vehicles, with many carrying custom paint jobs or stick-on graphics boldly advertising an associated business or service. However, the demand relaxed slightly in the second year on the market, and a very tight supply of the remaining 2006 model 450 cdis made 2007 sales appear to be a relatively weak. However, sales rebounded strongly once the new 451 started arriving. Canadian smart cdis cannot be registered in some states in the US, though at least 80 are known to be there as of September 2013.
10,239 smart fortwo cdis had been sold in Canada by the first month of 2008. Just before the Type 450 ended production (after which the production had equaled 770,256 cars) Mercedes-Benz Canada built-up stock of cdis to tide dealers over until the successor model 451 arrived at the end of 2007.
The Canadian version of the Type 450 smart fortwo cdi sold to 915 customers over three months in 2004, 4,080 were sold in 2005, and 3,023 in 2006. Virtually all the deliveries in 2004 and many of the deliveries in 2005 were to long-time smart fans who had been waiting for their car for years, which largely accounts for the higher numbers. Through 2007, sales totaled about 2,200 units, with the last few cars being sold in the first month of 2008, when the new Type 451 was already on sale. The smart's strongest sales performance ever in Canada was in April 2007, when more than 500 units were sold. Sales are strongest (per capita) in Western Canada, with Vancouver Island and Vancouver being especially hot markets for smart.
The 2008-2011 (North America) smart fortwo Type 451 was totally redesigned, with a 70 HP naturally aspirated Mitsubishi-sourced gasoline engine of 999 cc for North America, up from the 799 cc cdi diesel, with the attendant loss of fuel economy. smart decided not to import the cdi version of the 451, now with 55 DIN HP, although this decision has led to criticism that the new smart does not get the fuel economy that many would expect from such a small car. The 799 cc, far more fuel efficient diesel is sold in Europe and some other World markets.
The BRABUS Tailor-Made program is not well advertised in Canada, but at least 16 Tailor-Made cars have been produced to Canadian specification. These vehicles are sent to the BRABUS factory in Bottrop, Germany, where the standard ex-works cars are stripped to the shell and repainted/retrimmed to suit individual customers' tastes. The first four are the BRABUS Canada 1; three in bright red (including the tridion, two cabriolets and one coupé) and one in all white (a cabriolet). Aside from the special paint, all had every BRABUS part fitted to the body and interior, and the seats, door panels and dashboards were trimmed in black Nappa leather and Alcantara. Three of these cars are in British Columbia and #1-of-1, the Concept vehicle used at Canadian International Auto Shows (a red cabrio with silver alloys), is now in London, Ontario. The next BRABUS Tailor-Made Canadian car was a one-off all orange 451 made for a customer in Vancouver. The other ten were all ordered by Mercedes-Benz Canada as the special "edit10n" of the Canadian BRABUS 451 (with only 70 HP), painted in metallic dark grey with an orange Nappe leather interior. There is also at least one BoConcept 451 built to Canadian standards.
In 2009, the Government of Canada acquired the European Smart mhd (micro hybrid drive) through partnership with Mercedes-Benz Canada. The project was administered by the ecoTECHNOLOGY for Vehicles(eTV) program within Transport Canada. Goals were to identify the benefits of the start-stop system equipped on the vehicle and how to accelerate the penetration of this technology throughout Canada. See Smart mhd Test Results Report.
Before 2008, Smart cars were only available in the United States as "grey market" imports, such as ZAP. U.S. federal regulations allow certain grey market importing in large quantities provided the vehicles are modified and tested to conform to U.S. safety and emissions regulations. Smart cars were imported into the United States by "The Defiance Company LLC", modified by G&K Automotive Conversion in Santa Ana, California, and distributed and sold by independent dealerships which were not affiliated with Mercedes. U.S. regulations did not permit the purchase and import of used Smart CDi vehicles from Canada, as the diesel powered Canadian Smarts did not meet American emissions regulations.
In June 2006, DaimlerChrysler confirmed that Smart would be officially launched in the United States in the first quarter of 2008. The cars are offered through a dealership holding company Penske Automotive Group, which created a new U.S. dealership network for the brand under the name Smart USA. Initially, an updated gasoline powered Fortwo was offered, starting around US$12,000. The new model made its debut at European auto shows in November 2006.
"Hybrid Technologies" plans to sell an electric version of the Smart vehicle in the U.S. starting at US$35,000. It is being called a hybrid car even though the vehicle is all-electric. The electric Smart car will have a range of 120 to 150 miles (190–240 km), a top speed of 80 mph (130 km/h), and charge in 5 to 6 hours using a standard 120 V AC outlet. An electric Smart is currently undergoing testing in the UK and will only be offered to commercial clients as a trial for the time being. The electric model is scheduled for a U.S. release for the 2012 model year with some test market cars surfacing in 4th quarter 2010.
A Forbes article has been critical of the stated reasons that Daimler-Chrysler gave for introducing the car in the United States. The Smart fortwo is the most fuel-efficient fully gasoline-engined car for sale in the US, and the fourth most fuel-efficient vehicle in the US behind several hybrid electric/gasoline vehicles. According to the EPA, the Smart's fuel efficiency is lower than the fuel efficiency of some hybrids, including the Ford Fusion, the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic Hybrid, and the 2-seat Honda Insight, which achieve 41/36, 51/48, 40/43, and 40/43 respectively while the Smart achieves 33 city and 41 highway. However, the Smart fortwo is the most efficient car at its pricepoint, since it costs about half as much as a hybrid in the US. Its pricepoint and gas mileage may make it more comparable to non-automobile vehicles, such as motorcycles.
The unique design of the Smart has received much attention in the U.S. In its April 2008 issue, Men's Vogue raised the question, "in a nation where your supersized car is your castle, is the Smart too mini for a man?".
To obtain a Smart originally required obtaining a "reservation" costing $99 through a dealer or over the internet. The waiting time in January 2009 was approximately 12 months; however, as of July 2009, there was no wait to obtain a vehicle and dealers have them in stock for immediate delivery.
On January 25, 2010, Smart USA began its first lease program in the US market for smart fortwo models. The program was scheduled to last through February 28, 2010, but has been extended indefinitely despite lack of leasing sales.
Smart USA has appointed its first dealer in Puerto Rico. The new dealer is located in San Juan, Puerto Rico and is part of the Penske Automotive Group. It is also a part of Triangle Automotive Group, an automotive retailer in Puerto Rico.
Penske Automotive Group announced plans February 14, 2011, to relinquish distribution of the smart fortwo under smart USA, to Mercedes-Benz USA. In 2011, smart USA offers four versions of their fortwo model. These models include the following: cabriolet, the high-cost convertible version; passion, the mid-cost moonroof version; pure, the low-cost basic version; and electric drive, the electric version.
On July 1, 2011, Mercedes-Benz USA took over the distribution, sales and marketing of the Smart brand from Penske Automotive Group. Smart is owned and produced by Mercedes' parent, Daimler AG.
The Smart cars were first introduced to the country in 2003, and were sold in department stores Sanborns and Liverpool. Later Mercedes Benz dealers started to offer the car. Currently Smart cars are still offered in the country but with little acceptance, with only the Fortwo model available.
Smart cars have fierce competition with the Hyundai Atos, Pontiac Matiz, and Chevrolet Chevy, which are compacts with low gas consumption at less than half the cost of a Smart Car but with more space for passengers.
In South America Smart can be found in two countries: Argentina and Brazil. In Argentina, Smart is for sale since 2010 and models (Fortwo Cabrio and Fortwo Coupé) can be bought in "Smart Centers" located in trendy spots of Buenos Aires like Puerto Madero neighbourhood. Although Smart cars can be good options in the crowded streets and avenues of Buenos Aires city, the price is considered high (roughly $24,000 USD) in comparison to other small cars which are made in Argentina.
Since 2003, Smart has been for sale in Australia. All Smart models that have been produced have been sold in Australia. The Smart is currently sold through Mercedes-Benz Dealerships. Recently Smart has become popular among young people in urban areas of Australia, particularly in its largest cities. Mercedes-Benz Dealerships around Australia as of 2003 are only offering Smart vehicles in the "Pulse" mid-range trim, thus the "Passion", "Brabus Xclusive" and other trims are not available as yet, until further notice or changes.
Launched in the United Kingdom in 2000, Smart has seen the number of dedicated fans and owners grow year after year.
As a result the UK is host to a number of annual smart car events, both official and unofficial, including the largest one-day gathering of smart cars in the world. Smart Festival is held annually at Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge, near historic Brooklands - the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit.
The Smart Fortwo ed is currently going through user trials in the UK, and will go on general release in 2012.
Smart vehicles use a very small front crumple zone. The new Smart Fortwo has been awarded 4 out of 5 stars in the Euro NCAP Adult Occupant Protection and 2 out of 4 stars in the Pedestrian protection test, but was not tested for Child Occupant Protection as it has no rear seats. The original Smart was awarded 3 out of 5 stars for Adult Occupant Protection. In American tests using a five star rating, Smart cars received a four star safety rating for the driver from a front impact, and a five star safety rating for the driver for a side impact. It also received "Good" ratings for front and side crash protection in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests. However, in an April 2009 40 mph frontal offset crash test between a Fortwo and a Mercedes C class, "the Smart went air- borne and turned around 450 degrees" causing "extensive intrusion into the space around the dummy from head to feet". The IIHS rated the Smart Fortwo "Poor," noting that "Multiple injuries, including to the head, would be likely for a real-world driver of a Smart in a similar collision."
The main structure of the car is a stiff structure called a Tridion Safety Cell, which is designed to activate the crumple zones of a colliding vehicle. This design creates a "very strong safety cell" around the passengers, according to the manufacturer.
Smart cars have been modified by Brabus of Germany, resulting in Brabus production models. Other companies modify the Smart to use motorcycle engines, such as the Suzuki Hayabusa 1340 cc inline four-cylinder. These cars are known as Smartuki. The most powerful models can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 100 km/h) in less than 3.5 seconds. The original car was fitted with a mildly tuned engine and ran 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, 1/4 mile standing start in 12.4 seconds and a top speed of 132 mph (212 km/h). It is possible to push the GSXR engine further; nitrous Oxide will add another 50 bhp (37 kW; 51 PS) - 80 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS) and there is a turbocharged option.
Some companies and individuals upgrade the original engine to Brabus spec, but these have been taken even further by some with many aftermarket upgrade options available.
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