Smart is an automotive branch of Daimler AG. Smart is a German manufacturer of microcars produced in Hambach, France, and Böblingen, Germany. It is marketed as the "smart" in all lower-case, with the Smart brand logo, as of 2010, denoting a letter "c" for "compact" and an arrow for "forward thinking".
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 reminiscent of 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.
By the end of April 1994 MCC had set up a head office in Biel, Switzerland.
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 and a rear-engine, rear-drive, 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.
Smart now operates under the Mercedes-Benz Cars division of Daimler AG, offering the Fortwo as its only product.
Apart from the original short Smart Fortwo, a sporty Smart Roadster, a limited production of 2000 concept Smart Crosstown 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.
An electric, rechargeable version is being released in the UK as a lease vehicle on a limited basis. At the Smart Car Brooklands event in July 2008, a Smart EV was on display within "MercedesWorldPoopies" and a representative stated that the car would be for sale in the UK in 2010. Daimler will start the production of the electric Smart equipped with lithium-ion batteries in 2009 and production will ramp up to mass production by 2012. A Smart Forfour has been converted into a plug-in hybrid by Lithium Technology Corporation and Zytek Systems. The lithium-ion battery can propel the vehicle up to 84 miles per hour (135 km/h) and last on its own for up to 20 miles (32 km). The engine is a combination of a 68-horsepower (51 kW), 1.5-liter (92 cu in), 3-cylinder turbo charged diesel engine and two high-efficiency permanent-magnet electric motors. It was awarded by the Energy Saving Trust for the “Ultra Low Carbon Car Challenge” project.
Daimler AG and RWE AG have launched the world's largest joint project for environmentally friendly electric cars. Daimler will provide more than 100 electric cars from Mercedes-Benz and Smart as well as the vehicle service.The new generation of Smart ED (electric drive) and electric-battery driven vehicles from Mercedes-Benz will come in use within the "e-mobility Berlin" project. RWE is handling the development, installation and operation of the charging infrastructure". The new project is also benefiting from the experience gained by Daimler during the current pilot project involving electro-mobility in London. Since last year, there has been a test fleet of first-generation Smart Fortwo ed cars . The start of serial production of battery-powered vehicles by Mercedes-Benz and Smart is in 2010.
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, 2 out of 4 stars in the Pedestrian protection test but it 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 (top rating) 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, in which "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."
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.