The Evolution of Smart Cars
For most of us, we think of the introduction of the Smart Car as a relatively new occurrence in the realm of automobiles. These days, more and more people are turning to the tiny, efficient urban cars as a way to get around with great fuel economy and a much more environmentally friendly attitude, but it might surprise you to know that these tiny things have been kicking around since the mid 1990s! Starting mostly as a European phenomenon, it took a long time for it to be integrated into the North American psyche and more importantly into auto careers and the market. So how did this efficient little machine get its start, anyhow?
A Humble Beginning
The story of the Smart Car can be traced back to the early 90s and the Swiss watch company Swatch, where inventor Nicolas Hayek was interested in the idea of developing an efficient and urbanized vehicle. He initially brought the idea to Volkswagen, who were extremely interested in Hayek’s vision, but were at the time suffering from some financial woes. Hayek eventually ended up partnering with Mercedes-Benz and the concept of the Smart Car was born!
There were a number of different prototypes that were toyed around with, and propulsion of the vehicle was a central issue – electric, hybrid, gas and diesel power were all tinkered around with. However, gas and diesel inevitably won out, and these early prototypes were shown at a variety of auto shows throughout 1995 and 1996.
Finally, most of the kinks were worked out, and the final version of the Smart measured in at 2.5 m long, 1.51 m wide and 1.52 m tall and it featured a three-cylinder gas engine that sat snugly in the back of the minute car. These were the first Smart cars that were sold in October 1998, and then in 1999 a direct-injection diesel engine version was completed and rolled out onto the market. This was the version that made its way to Canada in 2004, when the Smart finally debuted on our shores and was dubbed the Smart Fortwo.
Since the debut of the Smart Fortwo in Canada, there have been a number of evolutions and improvements made to the line of urban vehicles, including the Smart Roadster and the Smart Fortwo ED – an electric version. You can check out a video of the electric version here:
So maybe the old saying is right – a little bit does go a long way!