24 November 2007

Was It Smart?

The original idea behind the smart car was that the vehicle would be easy to drive and park in congested cities. It is short enough to allow it to be parked facing the kerb. The car started selling in 1998 with initial sales encouraging. This led to an expanding of the smart car brand with the introduction of the Roadster and Roadster-Coupe in 2003 and the Forfour sedan in 2004.

Smarts were made in France exclusively up to 2004 but then the smart Forfour were produced in The Netherlands. There the car shared most of its components with the Mitsubishi Colt, which was made there also. However The Forfour and Roadster bombed, as consumers found them to be overpriced and not in keeping with the simplicity of the original idea.

The failure led to a dramatic downturn in smart's fortunes, which led DaimlerChrysler's to consider stopping production altogether. The cars were losing Mercedes Benz a bundle of money. However, it has been kept alive around the basic car only, renamed Fortwo which debuted in 2006. With only a slight increase in size, the look of the original city car remained, but the interior and often-criticized transmission received significant changes and safety was improved. So with the new smart fortwo, how does it rate?

What's good: A design classic; easy to park in crowded cities; quite safe, low carbon emissions.

What's not: Expensive, auto gearbox still jerky and no manual gearbox; cheap feel to the interior. You can get a decent, small four-seater for less.

Overall: It is so-so on the open road so it's really best used around town.

Sales: 2000 100,000 2001-3 120,000 per year 2004 170,000 2005 125,000 2006 85,000 2007 (10 mths) 80,000. The 2004 figure was helped by all three models, but 2005 saw only 45,000 ForFours and 3,000 Roadsters. Best countries: Germany 50,000 (2004) Italy 42,000 (2005).

Why didn’t MB bite the bullet years ago and kill the whole thing instead of stubbornly keeping on going? Maybe it wouldn’t be good for German/French relations. Were the executives too proud to admit their mistake? Pride can hurt you and this car has certainly done that for MB. When smart creators Swatch went to VW to make the car, they wouldn’t. That should have set alarm bells ringing. It didn’t for MB execs and that decision has cost them big time, billions of Euros in fact. It may be easy to park and frugal sipping fuel, but most want more than that and smart just cannot deliver. It proved not to be that smart an idea in the end.


  1. Why the decision to go to France? More Euro job protectionism no doubt.
    Seems to me the sort of no-brainer for a less developed country.

  2. Good for Franco-Germanic relations no doubt.