Smart: Where now?

Arguably more than any other manufacturer, Smart The city is well known as a car expert.

Models like ForTwo not only beat the Mini in its own game, but also polarized public opinion, boosted the brand’s media attention and finally gave it the confidence to launch a complete lineup of compact cars enjoyed in urban environments.

The range includes the original ForTwo, a four-seater Native, as well as a sporty roadstar aimed at offering a different interpretation of the same fun-to-drive policy that has been perfected by the Mazda MX-5 for decades.

More recently, however, the brand has focused on specializing in the manufacture of electric vehicles and is in the process of implementing an ambitious product plan. So what can we expect from smart?

Brief history and brand overview

The story behind Smart begins in horology, not in the automotive industry.

Both the mechanical watch and the luxury car require the highest attention to detail and intricate craftsmanship, and the natural connection between the two industries means that watch makers and automotive brands, especially luxury brands on both sides, have encouraged long-term marketing partnerships and collaborations.

Swatch is probably the most affordable watch brand in Switzerland. In addition to the relatively low price, the brand is equally well-known for its fun designs and the use of bold colors to sell highly customizable products to a young audience who can reveal their personality after a swatch watch.

It was these notions of customization, personality, and affordability that made Swatch think it could bring autonomous space into the 1980s.

The then-CEO Nicholas Hayek knew he could not expect to compete with established carmakers at the time, but believed that the automotive industry ignored the need for a small, stylish car ideal for any ‘switchomobile’, ideal for narrow European city streets. ‘The car manufacturer’s existing model should be more than a trim level or decal pack.

Instead, Hayek sought to collaborate with a carmaker who would be willing to create a dedicated model that would fully reflect Swatch’s ideas about modern urban automobiles.

With Fiat, GM and Renault rejecting a partnership offer and through a deal with Volkswagen, Hayek was finally able to reach an agreement with Daimler-Benz in 1994.

The partnership will be carried out by a joint venture called Micro Compact Car AG (MCC), which will be 49 per cent owned by the same parent company that makes the Swatch-brand watch, the rest will be owned by Daimler-Benz. .

MCC will be overseen by two subsidiaries (SMH Auto SA and MCC GmbH) which will engineer a hybrid drivetrain engineer and design the rest of the vehicles, respectively. It was at this time that the name ‘Smart’ was coined, and Smart is now considered a portman of Swatch Mercedes Art.

A two-seater design was decided, and when engineering was completed in early 1997, R&D and production costs exceeded Hayek’s forecast, with Daimler-Benz increasing their MCC ownership by 81 percent.

Instead of the innovative hybrid powertrain that Hayek envisioned, the production smart car, now known as the ‘City-Coup’ and launched in 1998, has a conventional petrol engine. At this point, Daimler-Benz bought the remaining MCC shares owned by the parent company of Swatch, effectively turning Smart into a subsidiary of Daimler.

Smart was under Daimler control until 2019. In 2019, Daimler signed a 50:50 joint venture agreement with Chinese company Gili (owner of Volvo and Lotus), which will allow future smart cars to be made only electric, engineered and made in China. Designed by Geely, but by Mercedes-Benz.

At present, Smart has retreated from some of the previously held markets, including Australia and the United States, and has focused primarily on the UK and European markets, with limited presence in Japan.

Previous Australian presence

Smart cars were sold in Australia from 2003 to 2015.

The Australian range included the original ForTwo hatch for two generations (originally introduced in the Australian market in 2003 as the City-Coupe and is also available as a Cabrio); Big fork hatch; And Sportier Roadstar.

Total growing sales exceeded 4400, mostly small ForTwo models.

Annual sales were at the top with sales of 799 smart models in 2005, but since then, sales have been steadily declining, with only 108 instances sold in 2014, the brand’s last full year sold, and Smart went to the online ordering system exclusively in June. 2013 – Revolutionary at that time.

The primary reason for the brand’s withdrawal from our market was the low sales, and the entry-level ForTwo, priced at $ 18,990 drive away (then a base corolla), was understandable.

Current model range and electrification plan

Smart is currently redesigning its entire model range.

The brand was transformed into an EV-only model line-up in 2019, releasing the battery electric versions of the third-generation ForTwo and ForFour, which were originally launched in 2015 with combustion engines. However, even these EV versions are in the process of being discontinued.

Instead, the brand’s focus has been on developing and launching new smart # 1 small SUVs.

As part of the Gili partnership, the first smart, 4.27m-long # 1 in China has a 66kWh battery that provides maximum 440km driving range under WLTP cycles, and a motor that produces 200kW of power and 343Nm of torque, rear wheel driving.

Geely’s SEA (Sustainable Experience Architecture), built on a dedicated EV platform, makes it very likely that all future Geely models will use the same type of underpinning.

With the # 1, the smart Mercedes-Benz has just established itself as a semi-premium offer just below the car, with its interior design and materials hinted at by the # 1 Mercedes rival.

Back to Australia

Neither Mercedes nor Gili has made any firm commitment around the smart brand to return to Australia.

However, due to the much tastier size of the # 1 crossover, its semi-premium positioning and competitive range and power statistics, it is possible that in the future Australian launches may see the # 1 undercut in terms of price of other smaller electric SUVs such as Mercedes-Benz EQA, Volvo XC40 recharge and BMW iX1.

If the price of the Smart # 1 launches locally, indirect competitors will also have to consider, such as the upcoming Cupra Born.

More: 2023 Smart # 1 unveiled

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