Smart’s been a problem child for Daimler. Even though it’s one of the newest car companies, it’s already been through failed joint ventures, models cancelled at the last minute and huge underperformance. No doubt that millions – if not billions – of euros have gone west as well.
But Merc has stuck with it. After all, it’s a brand that does make sense. Increasing attention on sustainable transport plays right into Smart’s hands. it also has the potential to attract a certain type of trendy, urban and younger buyer than Mercedes could ever hope to.
So at the unveil of Smart’s two new models in Berlin last night there was a palpable sense of expectation. Not quite admission that there had been past failure and loss-making, but you got the sense that this was a new chapter for Smart and a late, if not final, throw of the dice.
Clearly there was a lot of marketing nonsense and lots of 'aren’t we cool urban living’ puff, but at the end of the day, the cars looked good.
I was especially taken with the new Smart Fortwo, which looks all the better for the makeover. I'm glad to hear that it will have greater high-speed stability and the option of two proper gearboxes, instead of the awful nodding-donkey robotised manual that blighted that last model.
The Forfour is mechanically identical to the new Twingo and is also appealing. Personally, I prefer the look of the Renault, but it’s a close thing.
Best of all, I chatted with various Smart big cheeses, and it is obvious that this is the start of something that could lead to big sales in China and the US, and more models such as a baby SUV (the new For-More?).
Maybe Mercedes will make its investments back after all.