Smart Celebrates 20 Years Of Production As EV Switch Causes Sales To Tumble

Smart doesn’t get a lot of respect but the company is celebrating 20 years of production by taking a look back at its creation.

While the first Smart rolled off the assembly line two decades ago, its origins date back to the 1970’s when Mercedes was considering ideas for the “car of the future.” The first sketches were made in 1972 and envisioned an ultra-compact model that measured just 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long.

The company says the idea was “impressive” but it wasn’t technically feasible as engineers couldn’t get the model to meet their strict safety standards. Engineers continued to work on the idea and in the 1980’s they explored “designs employing a ‘sandwich’ principle” but this also didn’t meet the company’s safety requirements.


Eco Speedster Concept


In 1993, Johann Tomforde presented the Eco Sprinter and Eco Speedster concepts to Mercedes-Benz board members and their “enthusiastic response” led to the project officially getting the greenlight.

While most cars are typically developed by automakers, Mercedes teamed up with Swatch as the company’s founder, Nicolas G. Hayek, announced plans for a small city car back in 1989. The partnership eventually led to the creation of Micro Compact Car AG and the selection of a production site in Hambach, France.

Development work kicked off in 1994 and the car – the smart city coupe – was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997. The first model rolled off the assembly line on July 2nd, 1998 and deliveries began that October.


Smart Roadster


A convertible followed in the spring of 2000 while the roadster and roadster coupe were launched three years later. The Smart lineup continued to grow as the forfour arrived in 2004 thanks to the help of Mitsubishi. However, it was killed off just two years later.

The second-generation fortwo was launched in 2007 and it was larger and more comfortable than its predecessor. Less than a year later, the model went on sale in the United States for the first time.

The third-generation fortwo arrived seven year later it was joined by an all-new forfour. While the models are offered with a handful of engines, the company announced plans to transition to electric powertrains. That has already happened in Canada and the United States and it will occur in Europe in 2020. Shortly thereafter, Smart will become a pure electric brand.



Since going into production in 1998, Smart has sold over 2.2 million vehicles. However, the switch to electric powertrains hasn’t been met with much enthusiasm in the United States as Carsalebase data shows the company has only sold 524 models in America through May. If the trend holds, it will result in the brand’s worst performance in the country and 2018 sales could be about a third of the 3,071 units sold last year.

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  • Mr. EP9

    The two things that stuck out for me was the Smart with monster truck tires and that Smart Fortwo with the wings on the back.

    • I remember the one with the wing is called ForJeremy (the designer name was Jeremy something)

  • You’ve got to love a good spin to mask dismal performance most likely due to poor business decisions than anything else. Just as much as the Daimler Chrysler merger was an oopsie (for Daimler at least) this is nothing new, they must just plain say it for what it is.

    But then again what do I know, after all they are “The best or nothing”.

  • BarryFastCars

    I can’t believe that Smart did not bring the ForFour to the US. Why they would only bring the ForTwo is beyond me. Since when is the smallest option for our fat asses? Not to mention just having 2 models at once would make loads more sense. No I do not consider the convertible ForTwo a separate model. With the second gen Leaf selling quite well for not much more money whey would anyone buy an electric ForTwo.

    • TheHake

      The ForFour was just a Rover. You DIDN’T want that!

      • Which ForFour we talking about? The Mistubishi Colt ones or the new one from Renault Twingo.

      • BarryFastCars

        I am talking about the current generation model which is a Renault Twingo.

  • Let’s face it, the new ForTwo is technically a Twingo, it lost the original car unique factors, especially the design weren’t as remembered as 500 or Mini for example.

    The switch to Electric is probably a good thing, to give the car some USP.

  • eye.surgeon

    Sales suck because it’s a tiny underpowered city car meant for cramped European cities that is competing in the US with cheaper cars with far better feature sets. Outside of SF or NYC that car makes zero sense. Frankly I’m surprised they’ve sold 500.

  • FoxJ30

    Too bad more people don’t commute in cars like this – most people drive to work by themselves, and the smaller size could free up quite a bit of space in (what is now) bumper to bumper traffic.

    They might be safe (they’re actually quite over-engineered in this department), but I remember hearing that the 1st generation at least was horrible to drive.

  • mick

    The range of the EV model is laughable. Going all-electric, I totally understand but c’mon it needs at least double the range to be practical at all.

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