The smart story: Individual mobility reinvented

Nov 4, 2014
1998 saw the launch of an excitingly different car – the smart city coupé, which has long since become known as the smart fortwo. Measuring little more than two and a half metres in length, the uncompromising two-seater fitted crossways into parking spaces and established a new class of its own. After a few teething troubles, today the idea and the brand have become successfully established worldwide whilst competitors have failed. And even today smart continues to question the automotive status quo.
"From the very beginning smart had a new take on individual mobility and more than ever our brand and vehicles fulfil the promise to bring more joie de vivre to towns and cities," says Dr Annette Winkler, Head of smart at Daimler AG since 2010. "Today smart has a dedicated fan community around the globe. There is barely any other brand of car that is so sensible – or so much fun."
In the early 1970s a radical idea took root in the heads of Mercedes-Benz developers: They believed that the "car of the future" must question and examine all existing ideas about cars. The first sketches dating back to 1972 already indicate a new, seminal approach. The concept for an ultra-compact car with a length of two and a half metres was subsequently developed by Mercedes-Benz. Johann Tomforde was responsible for the project, a studio engineer at Mercedes-Benz in those days working in the field of cars for "future traffic systems".
Although the idea was impressive, technical implementation proved not to be possible at that time due to an inability to meet the company's strict safety standards.
In 1991 Mercedes-Benz Design started the next attempt. The Eco Sprinter and Eco Speedster show cars were developed in a cooperation between the Design Concept department in Sindelfingen and the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Center in Irvine, California. When Johann Tomforde presented them to the Mercedes-Benz boards in 1993 the enthusiastic response led to concrete plans for a new kind of vehicle and a new segment: the micro compact car.
The concept, package and safety concept – later to become characteristic features of the smart fortwo – were already clearly apparent in the first studies. The safety concept was brilliantly simple: like a nut, the interior is protected from harm by a rigid shell: the tridion cell.
Joint venture with Swatch
In 1989 Nicolas G. Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch watch, announced plans to bring a small city car onto the market. He wanted the car of the future to appeal to people as a statement rather than a status symbol.
Hayek sought an experienced partner for the quick and successful realisation of the project. The combination of Mercedes-Benz's 100 years of experience in building cars coupled with Swatch's creative powers brought together two ideal partners for this project. The cooperation resulted in a unique vehicle concept and a new automobile brand: smart.
Shortly after initial negotiations between Mercedes-Benz and Nicolas Hayek took place, Micro Compact Car AG was founded. The company headquarters were in Biel, Switzerland. In the search for a production site more than 70 locations worldwide were evaluated. In 1994 Hambach in France was chosen. The first pan-European car brand was born: the company headquarters were in Switzerland, the development centre in Germany, and the car was produced in France. The car was set to conquer the cities of Europe! Later the company headquarters were moved: initially to Renningen and later to Böblingen (both near Stuttgart).
World premiere in 1997 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show
Following the start of development in 1994, in 1997 the smart city coupé (450 model series) celebrated its world premiere at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. Production started in July 1998 at the new plant called smartville in Hambach, France, where the final assembly and suppliers of key components are located on one site (see separate section in this press kit). Sales started in October in nine European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland). In the same year, smart became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz AG (now Daimler AG). Today, smart is present in 46 markets around the globe: from the USA to China, from Malaysia to Russia.
It has always been part of the smart concept to offer customers numerous additional services in the area of individual mobility. For example, the smartmove programme enabled drivers to hire a larger car on favourable terms, to reserve special parking spaces and to avail themselves of a car sharing programme – services which have since undergone further development and which remain closely linked to smart today as "smart add‑o n" or "car2go".
Further models and model series
In 1999 at the International Motor Show Frankfurt, the young brand surprised the world public with a whole host of new model studies. A cabrio version was presented based on the smart city coupé. From the spring of 2000 the world's smallest production cabriolet, the smart cabrio rolled off the production line and onto European roads.
And whilst the world was talking about the introduction of the "three litre" car at the beginning of the new millennium, shortly after the presentation at the International Motor Show Frankfurt at the end of 1999 smart launched the smart cdi that consumed 3.4 litres of fuel over 100 kilometres. The most economical form of car transport was born and was a great success.
A special vehicle variant that was launched on the market in 2002 in a limited edition of 2000 offered a true open sky feeling: the smart crossblade. It had no doors, no roof and no windscreen. A narrow, tinted wind deflector was all that was stretched across the cockpit area to reduce the headwind. Instead of conventional doors, the crossblade was equipped with steel safety bars at passenger shoulder height.
2000: first smart times fan get-together
The first get-together of smart fans took place in Zell am See, Austria. The local get-together soon became a European event. Every year even more smart fans travelled to the Alps and soon fans from 22 countries gathered here. In 2010 smart times embarked on a tour of Europe. And each year the community decides the location for the next event. In 2013, 1700 smart enthusiasts from 24 countries came to Lucerne in Switzerland for the anniversary event "15 years of smart" and congratulated their brand with 1203 vehicles in the longest smart parade of all time. In 2014 smart times took place from 17 to 19 July 2014 in Cascais (Portugal).
2002: smart webmove
smart was the first car manufacturer to integrate a smartphone in its vehicles. This new device with a hands-free system connected to the smart sound system was the next logical stage of expansion for smart webmove mobile internet access which had been available since October 2000. In conjunction with a smartphone, smart webmove opened the door to the new smart portal for smart customers. The smartphone combined a mobile phone and an organiser whilst retaining the familiar functions of the two individual devices.
In this combination, in addition to local and general weather information, the new smart portal offered office functions such as email, calendar, address management and various mobility services. As well as traffic information and a city map service, these included the familiar smart-specific local search function – smart Finder. The dynamic off-board navigation, a new development, was a further smart innovation. Another important advantage for smart webmove customers was the practical connection to the vehicle's audio system.
2003: smart roadster and roadster coupé
The smart roadster and the smart roadster coupé (452 series), which were launched on the market in April 2003, offered a particularly intensive and sporty driving experience. With these two vehicles smart revived the tradition of compact and purist roadsters that had their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. The rear engine concept of the smart fortwo served as a platform and provided impressive proof of the dynamism of this construction. At the end of 2005 production of the smart roadster and roadster coupé was discontinued.
2003: smart fortwo facelift
In 2003 a new larger three-cylinder engine gave the petrol versions of the smart fortwo (previously city coupé and cabrio) more power: the 50 hp/37 kW was now the entry-level version, whilst the more powerful smart now generated 45 kW/61 hp from 698 cc. The proven cdi diesel engine remained unchanged at 30 kW/41 hp.
The previous dynamic handling control system trust plus was replaced by the standard electronic stability programme ESP® that also offered hill start assist, brake assist and acceleration skid control.
In 2003 the smart logo and vehicle names were also changed: the city-coupé and cabrio became the fortwo coupé and fortwo cabrio. The car proudly displayed its purpose in its name: fortwo – driving fun for two. From now on the front also sported the smart ring as the new brand logo.
2003: smart fortwo BRABUS
The same year the BRABUS versions developed by the joint venture smart-BRABUS GmbH were presented. As early as 2002 smart and the tuning specialist BRABUS from Bottrop founded a joint company. In 2004 smart-BRABUS GmbH opened new company headquarters in Bottrop: an ultra-modern technology centre and centre of excellence costing €16 million.
14 years later more than 50,000 customers worldwide have opted for a smart model customised by the joint venture. The smart fortwo BRABUS has power output of 75 kW/102 hp and maximum torque of 147 Nm. It has a top speed of 155 km/h, sprints to 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds and offers driving pleasure as a standard feature. The customisation programme "smart BRABUS tailor made" that was launched in 2010 and has now become established throughout Europe is also very successful. In 2012 it was extended to customers in the USA and China. tailor made underlines one of the great strengths of smart-BRABUS – interior and exterior vehicle individualisation.
2004: smart forfour
In 2004 the smart forfour (model series 454) built in cooperation with Mitsubishi was introduced on the market with the aim of offering the smart experience to families as well. The sporty five-door vehicle had unusual dimensions for the brand and opened up a new, competitive market segment for smart. To the present day the forfour has many fans, and this is documented by its high price on the used car market. But production was discontinued in the summer of 2006 in the course of restructuring at smart.
2005: smart crosstown
The smart crosstown show car exhibited at the International Motor Show Frankfurt boasted a forward-looking hybrid drive with a petrol engine and an electric motor. At the same time the study aroused curiosity for the new version of the smart fortwo that was launched in the spring of 2007.
In 2005 smart presented further vehicle studies with alternative drives at a technology forum: in addition to a prototype of the smart fortwo ev (electric vehicle), the company exhibited a smart fortwo with natural gas drive, a mild hybrid and a cdi hybrid.
The smart formore, the study of an all-wheel-drive smart presented in 2006, took a different direction. As a compact off-roader the smart formore demonstrated that the key values of the brand – innovation, functionality and joie de vivre – do not have to be limited to the city.
2007: the first smart electric drive
Still based on the first smart generation, in 2007 the company started a project with 100 smart electric drives in London. The cars were used by numerous customers, including the London police. A vision that the company had from the very beginning and that was always planned for in the design now became a reality: urban mobility with zero local emissions.
The smart ed came with everything that makes a smart a smart – but it didn't have a combustion engine. A 30 kW/41 hp magnetic motor worked at the rear of the smart fortwo ed which was driven by a constant high-performance, high-temperature battery made from environmentally compatible sodium-nickel-chloride. It was accommodated in the underbody, which meant that the interior space was not compromised.
Boasting NEDC consumption of just 12 kilowatt hours per 100 kilometres and zero carbon dioxide emissions, the smart fortwo ed represented the most economical and climate-friendly alternative in urban traffic. When charged, the 30 kW/41 hp two-door car could travel around 115 kilometres (EUDC). When the battery was empty, it could be charged at any 230 volt power socket – at least 1000 times. This meant that the battery could last for up to ten
years. It took four hours to charge the battery to 80 percent capacity and eight hours to charge it to full capacity.
Acceleration from zero to 60 km/h was at the same level of the petrol variants and the car had a maximum speed of 112 km/h. Furthermore, as a zero emission car the smart fortwo ed enjoys tax advantages in many countries and is exempt from local restrictions such as the London congestion charge. The small electric car therefore offered a combination of agility, economy and environmental compatibility that was unique in this class.
2007: second generation smart fortwo
In April 2007, almost ten years after the first preproduction series smart rolled off the production line, the new smart fortwo (451 series) was launched on the market. More than 770,000 first generation smart fortwos have been built since 1998. The brand was now fully integrated in the organisation of Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Cars division that also comprises the Mercedes-Benz and AMG car brands as well as smart.
The developers set even higher standards for the new smart fortwo. The optimised running gear, the longer wheelbase and the slightly larger body made the smart fortwo even more comfortable. The active and passive safety were further improved. The new drive engineering provided for even more agility and driving fun.
The carefully developed design gave the smart fortwo a fresh, more masculine appearance, and the designers gave the front a friendly smile. The dimensions increased as against the first generation. The 19.5 centimetre increase in length benefited pedestrians, rear impact protection and especially ride comfort. However, the smart retained its unique advantage: it continued to fit in parking spaces specially reserved for it and it continued to park perpendicular to the flow of traffic.
The luggage compartment could now hold 220 litres – 70 litres more than before – and when loaded to the roof there was space for up to 340 litres (an extra 80 litres). The new smart fortwo also featured the familiar twin-section tailgate. As before, the lower part could be used as a little platform and facilitated loading and unloading.
From October 2007 onwards the smart fortwo was also available as a micro hybrid drive (mhd) version. With innovative start/stop technology the fuel-efficient petrol variant achieved fuel savings of eight percent in the combined cycle, and even 20 percent in city traffic.
State-of-the-art, compact three-cylinder petrol engines with a capacity of 999 cc were installed at the rear of the smart fortwo. Customers could choose from two naturally aspirated engine versions, delivering 45 or 52 kW (61/71 hp) respectively, and a charged turbo engine rated at 62 kW (84 hp). The petrol variants now had a maximum speed of 145 km/h – 10 km/h more than the predecessor model. A three-cylinder turbo engine also powered the smart fortwo BRABUS with 72 kW/98 hp. In addition, a diesel variant was available – the smart fortwo cdi – the world champion in low CO2 emissions. The two-seater delivering 33 kW/45 hp consumed 3.3 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres on average. All engines were linked to a new automated manual five-speed transmission from Getrag.
2008: smart fortwo electric drive
At the Paris Motor Show in 2008 smart presented the latest smart fortwo series with electric drive to an international audience for the first time. In everyday real-world driving the zero-local-emission smart fortwo electric drive initially demonstrated its advantages in the project "e-mobility Berlin". This underlined the leading role of the young car brand on the way to environmentally friendly, sustainable concepts for individual mobility of the future.
2009: more power for the cdi
For model year 2010 the smart fortwo cdi was given a clear power boost, yet it remained just as economical and environmentally friendly as before. Its state-of-the-art three-cylinder diesel engine produced 21 percent more power (40 kW/54 hp) and delivered approximately 18 percent more maximum torque (130 Nm). Although this extra power made the two-seater car noticeably livelier, it did not affect its exemplary fuel consumption. As before, it consumed just 3.4 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres. Furthermore, with CO2 emissions of 88 g/km it continued to assert its leading position as the CO2 champion. In addition, from model year 2010 all versions of the smart fortwo (including the BRABUS versions) complied with the strict emission limits of the EU5 standard.
2009: launch of car2go
In March 2009 a new success story started for smart with the launch of the car2go car sharing concept as a public pilot project in Ulm. All registered citizens and visitors to the city can use a fleet of 200 blue and white smart fortwo cdis. The revolutionary mobility concept expanded rapidly. In the autumn of 2009 a fleet of 200 smart fortwos took to the roads of Austin (Texas).
This placed the smartmove car sharing mobility concept – like other unusual ideas part of smart's new way of thinking right from the start – on a new footing.
As the world's first fully flexible car rental system for large urban centres, in 2014 car2go is the global market leader in the field of location-independent car sharing. The two-seater can now be used in a total of 27 cities in Europe and North America. Almost 11,000 vehicles – including around 1200 with battery-electric drive – delight well over 700,000 customers worldwide. Every month far more than a million fully automatic rentals take place with car2go. Since 5 May 2014 cross-border use of car2go within Europe has been possible for the first time. Customers can simply transfer existing car2go data with a mouse click and then access available vehicles throughout Europe.
2010: the 2nd generation of the 2nd generation
The second generation smart fortwo entered the second half of its life with clear upgrades. The engines emitted less CO2 and pollutants and the BRABUS engine now delivered 75 kW instead of 72 kW. New colour combinations, new 15-inch alloy wheels and LED daytime driving lights upgraded the exterior of the fortwo. A practical new feature was the one-hand operation of the tailgate. New features of the interior included the design of the dashboard, new fabric patterns and colours for all lines, the trip computer (trip information, current fuel consumption, settings) and the assistance package (cruise control, trip computer, 3-spoke leather sports steering wheel with steering wheel gearshift and leather shift lever knob), ambient lighting (in door pockets, footwell, dashboard and overhead console, dimmable), a stowage box for the centre console and net pockets on the side bolsters of the seats.
The range of information, communication and entertainment systems was extended with the navigation/multimedia audio system (RDS radio with 6.5-inch touchscreen display, navigation, Bluetooth® hands-free system, AUX/USB, iPod® interface, CD/DVD/SD) and surround sound system (2 tweeters, 2 mid-range speakers, 2 rearfills, subwoofer, digital amplifier).
Two new elements developed by smart made the two-seater car and the iPhone® a perfect team: the smart cradle for the iPhone® with control unit and microphone serves as a stylish and functional holder. It charges the iPhone® and also functions as a hands-free system using the loudspeakers of the smart radio for sound output and automatically muting it when phone calls are made. The smart drive app for the iPhone® is the world's first drive app on the market to be developed by a car brand. It combines all the features needed on the road in a single app. All the functions are extremely easy to use thanks to extra-large buttons and extra-large letters
2012: smart fortwo electric drive
12 June 2012 – this date marked the starting signal for the first real alternative to the usual refuelling stops. The launch of the new smart fortwo electric drive meant that smart customers can now enjoy even more fun at the wheel of an attractively priced vehicle that has the familiar compact dimensions – as a coupé or a cabriolet. With its 55 kW electric motor the smart fortwo electric drive accelerates from 0 to 60 km/h in 4.8 seconds, and with a maximum speed of 125 km/h driving pleasure is also guaranteed on urban motorways. The 17.6 kWh battery enables the urban two-seater to travel approximately 145 kilometres in city traffic without producing any local emissions. The new sale&care model makes opting into electric mobility particularly attractive: it offers customers an opportunity to buy, finance or lease the vehicle at an attractive price and to rent the battery for a monthly fee.
2012 also witnessed the introduction of the first smart with just two wheels: the smart ebike features an unconventional design in line with the style of the brand, functions appropriate for city use and high technology standards which are reflected by an extremely efficient high-performance drive package, among other merits. At the start of sales it was initially available in two colour variants: in crystal white with electric green accent trim parts and in matt dark grey with flame orange accent trim parts.
Studies point the way to the future
From 2011 onwards smart showed where the company is headed with a range of show cars and concept vehicles. The first was the smart forspeed presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2011: an unconventional study combining contemporary urban mobility with the fun factor typical of smart. The two-seater had no roof or side windows and it featured a low wind deflector instead of a windscreen in the style of a classic propeller aircraft. The result is an incomparable fresh air driving experience. The responsive electric drive that had been further developed and featured a boost function also guaranteed driving pleasure.
In September 2011 the smart forvision followed at the International Motor Show Frankfurt. The concept vehicle developed in cooperation with BASF combined a futuristic design with technologies relating to energy efficiency, lightweight construction and temperature management – enabling the range to be increased by up to 20 percent.
January 2012 saw a premiere in Detroit: smart turned the automotive world upside down once again and challenged ideas about what an urban pickup should look like. In a tongue-in-cheek manner the smart for-us signalled that this is the right car for the young and young-at-heart with active lives who attach importance to low emissions and taking up minimum road space. The smart for-us translated the practical loading concept of a pickup to the reality of 21st century urban traffic for the first time.
In September 2012 smart reached for the stars in Paris: with the concept vehicle smart forstars the urban global brand hit the nerve of a target group that is at home in the cities of the world. The electrically powered smart forstars is an SUC (sports utility coupé) with room for two people and plenty of stowage space. Its name is a humorous allusion to the glass roof which affords the passengers a view of the stars above. It also refers to the original idea of integrating a beamer into the front lid, enabling spontaneous get-togethers with friends to watch the stars of the silver screen at any time.
The smart forjeremy was an extravagant exercise in style. At the "Auto Shanghai" in April 2013 smart presented the unique model created in cooperation with internationally renowned fashion designer Jeremy Scott as a strictly limited special edition that is licensed for road use. A key design element of the show car (Los Angeles 2012) was adopted in the form of the striking wings on the rear of the vehicle. The smart fortwo edition by Jeremy Scott was available as a coupé with either local emission-free electric drive, BRABUS electric drive or a powerful BRABUS 75 kW petrol engine.
Finally, in September 2013 smart provided a foretaste of how four people can enjoy pure urban joie de vivre at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt: the smart fourjoy, a compact four-seater, celebrated its world premiere. The study had all the typical smart attributes and embodied pure carefree enjoyment of urban life. With its compact dimensions (length/width/height: 3494/1978/1494 millimetres) and a turning circle of 9.1 metres, the smart fourjoy boasted the agility typical of the brand and was able to show off its strengths, especially in cities around the world. And thanks to the state-of-the-art electric drive with a 55 kW magneto-electric motor the zero-local-emission smart fourjoy offered agile driving performance without any shift delays.
2013: 1.5 million smarts
The next milestone in the history of smart: on 16 July 2013 the smart plant in Hambach produced the 1.5 millionth smart fortwo. The anniversary vehicle was a white smart fortwo electric drive cabrio. Dr Annette Winkler, Head of smart, says: "1.5 million smart fortwos show how the success of our city car. With its uniquely short design, the smart is simply unbeatable for city driving – much to the delight of smart drivers in ever more cities all over the world. And as traffic and parking space problems are becoming increasingly severe in large urban centres, many more smarts will follow: with combustion engines, increasing numbers with all-electric drive, as private and fleet cars and as customised vehicles for mobility concepts such as car2go. What's more, from 2014 we will offer our customers a completely new ‘urban mobility car’ with four seats."
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