Smart arrived on the market in October 1998, six years after Nicolas Hayek, co-founder of the watch brand Swatch, had the idea of creating a small car automobile company –now 100% electric- and finally found it in Mercedes-Benz. a partner to carry it out.
Hayek was not a character linked to the motor world, but he developed the project inspired by his successful watchmaking firm. He wanted a small, urban car that allowed a high degree of customization. Thus, he conceived the so-called 'Swatchmobile' -an urban two-seater- and established Hayek Engineering AG to design it. However, he soon realized that it was not so easy in terms of industrialization, distribution and customer service. In addition, there were more and more rumors of the arrival of possible competitors.
Faced with this situation, he decided that his best option was to ally with a large manufacturer. He tried it with Volkswagen, but when Ferdinand Piech became director of the group in 1993, he quickly disassociated himself from the project because he believed that the Lupo 3L concept -because it had an average consumption of 3 liters per 100 km- was better commercially. .
Without the support of the Wolfsburg brand, Hayek looked for another partner. Fiat, G.M. and Renault said they were not interested in the project. Thus he came to terms with Daimler Benz. Mercedes-Benz had made the NAFTA concept, in which we found a precedent for the Smart. And in 1994, the Mercedes Style Center of California introduced the MCC (Mercedes City Car) 'Eco-Sprinter' and 'Eco-Speedster', whose styling is clearly the predecessor of the Smart.
The first Smart was called 'City Coupé', but later changed to 'ForTwo', that is, 'for two', because it had only two seats and a small trunk, slightly enlarged in the latest versions. Its measurements have hardly changed in these 25 years of existence: the length was around 2.5 meters.
The project was so ambitious that a new factory was even built, with an innovative concept of chain production, which earned it the name of Smartville: a modular system by which the same suppliers assembled the parts in the cars. The place chosen was Hambach, in France. Even the development costs of the parts and components were co-financed by the brand and its suppliers, which forced some legislative changes.
Johann Tomforde, engineer and designer, was commissioned to run the joint venture of Mercedes-Benz and Swatch. He was logical, since he had worked since 1972 with 'small' cars, including the aforementioned NAFTA and MCC, in addition to the concept that gave rise to the first Class A.
To keep the car as small as possible, the engine was placed under the floor, just in front of the rear axle. The two occupants were sitting upright, making him rather tall for his size. This involved some stability problems, which delayed its release from March to October 1998.
Tomforde was replaced by Gerhard Fritz, who lowered the center of gravity, stiffened the suspension and added front-end ballast to balance the package.
The project was more expensive than expected. Daimler drastically increased its stake and Hayek was left in the minority, until he sold his part -already less than 20%- when they disagreed over the motorization. He had envisioned a hybrid system, but Mercedes opted for an all-gasoline engine.
The first Smart generation measured only 2.5 meters in length and had a 599 cc 3-cylinder block, which developed three power levels: 45, 51 and 61 CV, respectively. For better torque, the second generation expanded the displacement to 698 cc in the 50 and 61 hp versions, and a 40 hp 800 cc turbodiesel was also offered.
The beginnings were complicated. Sales were not up to expectations and losses were heavy. They began to think about company fleets. It seemed to have been born before the hour, that the public was not ready to receive it... until the problems of urban circulation became evident and executives began to use it. Going in a Smart was nicer and more elegant than doing it in any other small car.
In 2006, the car had grown by almost 20 cm, improved behavior and safety, and Mitsubishi one-liter 70 hp gasoline engines appeared, as well as a 84 hp Turbo version, which in the exclusive and luxurious Brabus edition came to offer 102 hp. .
Starting in 2006, work was done on an electric version using batteries of Tesla origin, marketed shortly after.
Recently, in 2019, Smart became the property of a joint venture of Mercedes and the Chinese Geely and was manufactured in this country. Currently, only the electric Smart EQ ForTwo is marketed, in coupe and cabrio versions. It is equipped with a 60 kW (82 CV) motor, powered by a 17.5 kW/h battery, which gives it a range of 132 kilometers.