Twenty years ago, one of the most unusual production vehicles ever was launched onto the market. It was recognisably different to conventional cars – the smart city coupé, which today goes by the name of the smart fortwo and has been on the market in its third generation since 2014. 20 years on it is apparent that the idea has caught on in a big way, with over 2.2 million smarts sold to date. And smart remains true to its pioneering role: smart is the first car brand with its sights set on a clean-cut switchover from combustion engines to electric drive.
The developers at Mercedes-Benz were already occupying themselves with the "car of the future" back at the beginning of the 1970s, evolving new, revolutionary approaches which ultimately led to the concept of the super-compact automobile with a length of two and a half metres. Some time passed before the pioneering safety concept was developed which allowed hallmark Mercedes safety to be achieved in an extremely short automobile.
In 1989, Nicolas G. Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch wristwatch, announced his intention to launch a small city car on the market. In order to turn this idea into successful reality, Hayek sought out Mercedes-Benz as an experienced partner. The two partners duly established Micro Compact Car AG, with its headquarters in Biel, Switzerland.
The smart city coupé finally had its world premiere at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in 1997. Production and sales began in 1998. In the same year, smart became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz AG (now Daimler AG).
The current, third generation was launched in 2014. The smart fortwo has undergone improvements in virtually all areas and is markedly more comfortable. The signature smart rear-mounted engine is now also available for the first time in the four-seater smart. The smart fortwo and smart forfour are clearly recognisable as members of the same family. Many design features such as the headlamps, the cooling air grille in the front and the iconic tridion safety cell are identical, for example.
The smart fortwo cabrio followed in 2016. Its "tritop" folding soft top enables unique flexibility: at the touch of a button the smart fortwo cabrio is transformed from a closed two-seater into a car with a large sliding canvas sunroof, or a fully-fledged cabriolet with the soft top completely open. This enables the fresh air driving experience to be adapted to the weather or the driver's mood.
smart goes all-electric: electric cars for the city
smart is the first car brand with its sights set on a clean-cut switchover from combustion engines to electric drive: smart has been selling only electric vehicles in the USA, Canada and Norway since 2017, and from 2020 it will be marketing only electric battery-powered vehicles in Germany and Western Europe, too. The rest of the world is to follow soon afterwards.
The smart EQ fortwo and smart EQ forfour are already making opting into electric mobility more attractive than ever, as they combine the agility of the smart with local emission-free driving – the ideal match for urban mobility. In the wake of the smart fortwo coupé and smart forfour, the battery-powered smart fortwo cabrio followed in the summer of 2017.
With 160 Newton metres of torque immediately available, the 60 kW electric car boasts exceedingly agile acceleration. One battery charge provides sufficient range for running around the city. smart EQ fortwo and smart EQ forfour can be charged at a domestic power socket – and the powerful on-board charger which comes as standard makes charging up to twice as fast as previously, depending on the country version. Since March 2018 a fast charger has been available which can cut the charging time at a wallbox to under 40 min. (10-80%).
smartville: model European plant in Hambach
The smart fortwo is produced at a purpose-built plant in the French town of Hambach – a clear commitment to Europe as a manufacturing base.
The smart plant, also known as smartville, began production in 1997. On-site system partners deliver modules, some of which are prefabricated, directly to the assembly line. In some instances they install their prefabricated modules in the smart themselves. This minimises the scope of transport and logistics operations. Flexibility, just-in-time delivery and minimum delivery times at all levels are among the factors that set benchmarks to this day.
There is close cooperation between the smart plant in Hambach and Novo Mesto, the Renault production location in Slovenia at which the smart forfour is produced under the partnership agreement between smart and Renault. The involvement of the production and quality experts from the Hambach plant ensures that all vehicles of the current smart generation meet the smart quality standards, irrespective of where they are produced.