The smart story: 20 years of smart

Oct 2, 2018

In the early 1970s a radical idea took root in the minds of Mercedes-Benz developers: they believed that the "car of the future" must question and examine all existing ideas about cars. The first sketches dating back to 1972 already indicate a new, seminal approach. The concept for an ultra-compact car with a length of two and a half metres was subsequently developed by Mercedes-Benz. Johann Tomforde was responsible for the project, a studio engineer at Mercedes-Benz in those days working in the field of cars for "future traffic systems".

Many years were to pass before the impressive idea could be reconciled with the company's stringent safety requirements. Some twenty years later, in 1993, Johann Tomforde presented the Eco Sprinter and Eco Speedster show cars to the top management at Mercedes-Benz.Their design, package and safety concept would later become hallmarks of the smart fortwo. The safety concept was brilliantly simple: like a nut, the soft interior is protected from harm by a rigid shell. The enthusiastic management response led to concrete plans for a new kind of vehicle and a new segment:the micro compact car.

1994: Joint venture with Swatch

In 1989, Nicolas G. Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch wristwatch, had announced his intention to launch a small city car on the market. He wanted the car of the future to appeal to people as a statement rather than a status symbol.

Hayek sought an experienced partner for the quick and successful realisation of the project. The combination of Mercedes-Benz's vast experience in building cars coupled with Swatch's creative powers brought together two ideal partners for this project. The cooperation resulted in a unique vehicle concept and a new automobile brand: smart.

Shortly after initial negotiations between Mercedes-Benz and Nicolas Hayek took place, Micro Compact Car AG was founded. The company headquarters were in Biel, Switzerland. In the search for a production site more than 70 locations worldwide were evaluated. In 1994 Hambach in France was chosen.


The world premiere of the smart city coupé (later renamed smart fortwo) was staged at the Frankfurt International Motor Show


Production began in July at the new plant in Hambach, France. Sales started in the following October in nine European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland).


The young brand surprised the Frankfurt International Motor Show with the smart cabrio and the cdi engine running on 3.4 litres per 100 kilometres.


smart decided to launch a small series of the smart crossblade. It had no doors, no roof and no windscreen.


The smart roadster and smart roadster coupé cited the compact and purist roadsters from the 1950s and 1960s.New three-cylinder petrol engines additionally provided for added power in the smart fortwo as well. From now on the front also sported the smart ring as the new brand logo.


In a departure from the two-seater and rear-engine principle, smart launched the forfour in cooperation with Mitsubishi.Production ended in 2006, following a decision to concentrate on the fortwo.


smart unveiled the crosstown at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, a show car with a petrol engine and electric motor. Additional vehicle studies involving alternative drive systems were also presented as part of a technology forum.


The second-generation smart fortwo was launched with an optimised suspension and a slightly larger body. Even more comfortable and safer and featuring more powerful petrol engines. The smart fortwo cdi remains the most economical production car worldwide. The smart fortwo micro hybrid with starter-alternator switched off its petrol engine as frequently as possible, cutting fuel consumption and emissions.


The smart was launched in the USA.


smart went on sale in China for the first time. The Middle Kingdom quickly developed into one of the largest markets for the brand.


Following a facelift, the smart fortwo was launched in the autumn of with a fresh interior look, an upgraded exterior and even more environmentally friendly engines. "Anything is possible" has been the motto of the smart BRABUS tailor made individualisation programme since March 2010. And smart was the first car brand to develop its own drive app for the iPhone.


At the Geneva Motor Show smart presented an unconventional study in the guise of the forspeed, which did without a roof and side windows and featured a flat windshield in the style of classic propeller aircraft instead of a windscreen. The highly responsive enhanced electric drive with boost function guaranteed enjoyable driving.


The smart fortwo electric drive made zero-emissions driving even more enjoyable. Powered by a battery supplied by Deutsche Accumotive for the first time, the 55 kW electric motor topped the 120 km/h mark.


The smart fourjoy study unveiled the dimensions of the next-generation smart four-seater at Frankfurt International Motor Show, featuring four full-size seats in a vehicle of minimum length.


The third generation of the smart fortwo marked the next step in the smart revolution. The smart fortwo has undergone improvements in virtually all areas and is markedly more comfortable.


smart is the only car manufacturer worldwide to offer its model range with both combustion engines and all-electric drive.


smart goes is the first car brand with its sights set on a clean-cut switchover from combustion engines to electric drive: since 2017, smart has been selling only electric vehicles in the USA, Canada and Norway. From 2020, it will be marketing only battery-electric cars in Europe, too. The rest of the World is due to follow soon after.