Smart Car History
Prior to joining with Daimler-Benz, Hayek had reached an agreement with Volkswagen in 1991 to share in the development, distribution, and sales of the Swatchmobile. In 1993, a change in leadership at Volkswagen led to the project being scrapped, as it competed directly with the Lupo, the Volkswagen version of a three-liter car. Hayek saw this coming and approached other carmakers, which led to the agreement with Daimler-Benz.
While Hayek wanted to keep Swatch within the name of the brand, Daimler-Benz wanted something more neutral. In the end, Smart was the agreement. Not only did it represent the idea behind what they were trying to create, but internally, it was an acronym for Swatch Mercedes Art. Over the next few years, Hayek and Daimler-Benz spent time setting up the company and creating a purpose-built plant to manufacture the cars.
Smart Cars in America
Smart cars were not introduced in North America until late 2004, when Mercedes Benz dealerships began to sell the Fortwo in Canada. Initially, sales were very high, and prospective owners had to endure long wait times to get their vehicles, particularly in major urban areas. Sales have fluctuated since then, but are consistently higher in Western Canada, particularly Vancouver, than anywhere else in North America.
Prior to 2008, the only Smart cars found in the U.S. were imported through grey markets. This means there were new or used Smart cars that had been imported into the U.S. through channels other than the official distributor. These vehicles can be imported but have to be modified to meet stringent U.S. safety and emissions regulations. Vehicles from Canada could not be imported as the diesel engines did not meet the emissions testing requirements.
Smart Car Models
The first Smart cars were launched in nine European countries in late 1998. The first model to hit the roads was the Smart City-Coupe, which was a two-seater, two-door, rear-engine vehicle. In 2000, the Smart City-Cabrio was added, which was a convertible version of the City-Coupe. In 2003 and 2004, the line was increased to include the Roadster and the Forfour—both four-door, four-passenger, rear-wheel drive vehicles. At the same time, the City-Coupe was renamed the Fortwo to keep with the new naming convention.
Unfortunately, even with the line expansion, Smart cars were losing money in Europe. As a result, production of the Roadster and Forfour were discontinued, and the plans for an SUV were terminated. In 2006, Smart was liquidated and absorbed into Daimler-Benz. Smart cars are now part of the Mercedes-Benz car division of Daimler. Only the Fortwo model is offered in both coupe and convertible designs.
Smart Car Products and Technologies
In 2006, Daimler-Benz announced that it would be bringing Smart cars to America in 2008. In the first quarter, Smart USA dealerships were created and began marketing the Fortwo in the U.S. The first Fortwo sold in the U.S. was a gasoline-powered vehicle. In 2011, there were three different versions of the Fortwo available in the U.S.: the cabriolet, the passion, and the pure. The cabriolet, or passion cabriolet, is a convertible and is currently the most expensive version of the Fortwo on the market. The passion coupe is the mid-level priced version and features a sunroof. Pure is the low cost, most basic version of the Fortwo.
An electric drive version of the Fortwo came in 2012. It was announced in 2008, with trial sales in the UK since 2010. In the U.S., it is called a hybrid car, even though it is completely electric powered. It is the most expensive Smart car for sale at almost double the price of the Passion cabriolet. It has a range of 120 to 150 miles and a top speed of 80 mph. To fully charge the vehicle, it must be plugged into a standard 120 AC volt plug for five to six hours.
The current Fortwo models for sale are the second generation of this vehicle and have been in production since 2007. In 2012, Daimler-Benz began production of the third generation of the Fortwo models. In addition to producing a new version of the Fortwo, Daimler-Benz is working with Renault-Nissan. As a result, Renault has a two-seater car based on the 2012 version of the Smart Fortwo.