A brief history of the Smart car: From the Swatchmobile to the electric ForTwo

Ever wondered how the ultimate city car came to be? We take a look at the interesting history of the Smart car...

The Smart Car. You either love it or loathe it, but you definitely have an opinion on it. The compact car has been dividing opinion for many years now, and whatever your opinion on the microcar, you can’t deny it’s been pretty successful.

But, where did it all begin?

In this article, we look at the history of the Smart car.

When was the first Smart Car made?

The Smart Car actually has a very interesting history, despite it being quite a young marque.

The makers of Swatch (the brand of watches that were huge in the eighties and nineties), SMH, started developing an idea for a new car using the same type of personalisation that they used in their watches. The CEO, Nicolas Hayek, believed that the automotive industry had ignored the customers that wanted a small, stylish car. They soon called this idea the ‘Swatchmobile’, which thankfully, didn’t stick.

Hayek, however, didn’t want to compete with the rest of the automotive industry by introducing the ‘Swatchmobile’ because he thought that other manufacturers would feel threatened. Probably not if they went ahead with the name ‘Swatchmobile’ but anyway, instead of competing, he wanted to cooperate. And so Hayek approached several manufacturers about his idea, final reaching an agreement with Volkswagen to share development of the new city car.

History of the Smart Car

Unfortunately for Swatch, Volkswagen had a new CEO in 1993 who wanted to terminate the project with SMH. Hayek had an inkling that this was going to happen, and so started looking for other partners. After being turned down by several manufacturers including Fiat and Renault, he reached an informal agreement with Daimler-Benz AG, the makers of Mercedes-Benz.

The deal was announced in 1994 with the formation of Micro Compact Car AG. It would consist of two subsidiaries; MCC GmbH which would design the car and SMH Auto SA, which was owned by Hayek, who would design a hybrid electric drive system for the car.

The first Smart car was launched in October 1998, but Hayek was disappointed with the final design. While he wanted it to be a hybrid, the first Smart car was instead a conventional fuel powered car.

When did Swatchmobile become Smart?

Before we go further we should probably tell you how the name Smart came to be. Hayek wanted ‘Swatch’ to be in the name somewhere, but Daimler-Benz wanted something more neutral. The final name was to be Smart, which stood for Swatch Mercedes Art and had actually been used internally for quite some time.

The factory in which the Smart cars were built was affectionately given the nickname ‘Smartville’.

When did Daimler-Benz fully own Smart?

During the pre-production of the Smart car, MCC needed more capital. So, Daimler-Benz recapitalized and increased their share of ownership of the company to 81%.

After the Smart car was launched, they increased this to 100%, owning Smart outright. This wasn’t long before Daimler-Benz became DaimlerChrysler.

Smart Forfour side infront of wall

It was after this that the line of Smart cars were expanded to the Roadster and the Forfour. It was then that the original Smart car adopted the name Fortwo.

Unfortunately, this didn’t increase sales as Daimler-Benz would have liked and in the years 2003-2006, Smart GmbH (which is what it was now named) lost nearly 4 billion euros.

When was Smart liquidated?

In 2005, Daimler decided against purchasing a share in a factory to produce the Smart ForFour, ultimately ending its production. They were also planning on producing a Smart SUV called the Formore, but this was abandoned at the last minute. This was also around the same time the Roadster was also discontinued.

In 2006, Smart GmbH was liquidated and its operations were absorbed by DaimlerChrylser. It currently operates under Mercedes-Benz Car division.

When did Smart release their electric car?

Development of the electric Smart Fortwo started in 2006 and field testing began in 2007.

The second generation of these electric Smart cars was launched in 2009 with 2,000 units produced. They were available in 18 markets around the world to either lease or through the carsharing service, Car2Go in San Deigo and Amsterdam.
The lithium battery in the Smart Fortwos is provided by Tesla Motors.

History of the Smart Car

A more powerful electric Smart car was launched in 2013 after being unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011. It had a higher top speed and had the option for quick charging.

The fourth generation was shown at the Paris Motor Show in 2016, ready to launch this year (2017). Smart claims that the battery will be a 17.6-kilowatt-hour lithium battery, quite the improvement from the first generations 14-kilo-watt. It is also expected to have a range of 99miles.

And that pretty much brings us to the present day. You can now get Smart cars in 46 countries across the world and, as of early 2015, the Smart Fortwo surpassed 1.7 million units. Not bad for something that was going to be called the Swatchmobile.

Rachel Richardson


  • Half Cack| 29th June 2020 at 4:09 am Reply

    I thank you as well.. I liked the old model so much but I missed the last year of it. Instead, I got a 2019, one of the last off the line. I got a Level 2 charger from Clipper Creek which charges it from flat to full in two hours and 20 minutes. I only got caught with a depleted battery three times. I charge it according to recommendations, between 60-80% for maximum life. I really like it.

    • Rachel Richardson| 29th June 2020 at 1:20 pm Reply

      Thank you. The SMART car is a great little city car, perfect for short urban journeys. It’s what it was originally designed for.

  • Shay Pilar| 11th June 2019 at 4:19 am Reply

    excellent reporting. i love learn how great products start out. I love my Swatchmobile!

  • Leo Capuno| 17th May 2019 at 7:16 pm Reply

    Very nice to know the history of the Smart Fortwo I am driving.

    • Rachel Richardson| 20th May 2019 at 9:52 am Reply

      Hi Leo,
      Thank you for the feedback. It’s always good to hear when the information we are posting is helpful. I hope that you enjoy your Smart Fortwo

  • DANON HONEGGER| 28th April 2019 at 5:58 pm Reply


    • Rachel Richardson| 29th April 2019 at 9:26 am Reply

      Hi Danon,
      Thank you for your feedback. It’s always good to hear when people have found the articles we produce helpful and informative.

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