Smart #1 Electric Car Is Cute, Curvy, & Capacious

The smart #1 is…well, let’s start with that. First, I am not some dolt who doesn’t know how to write English. First, this company does not capitalize the first letter of its name. Second, all new models from smart will use # in their name and will be in chronological sequence. If a smart in 2036 is known as #327, so be it. That’s the way it’s going to be, so get used to it.

OK. Where were we? Oh, yes. The smart #1 was officially unveiled this week and, as predicted by a writer I hold in the highest regard, it is devoid of the silly suicide doors featured on the Concept car first presented to the public last September. But other than that, it looks almost identical to the Concept. It’s small on the outside at 4.27 meters long (about the size of a current MINI), but its 2.75 meter wheelbase means it has almost as much room on the inside as a Mercedes E Class sedan.

When it goes into production later this year, it will feature a 66 kWh NMC battery, a single rear-mounted motor that produces 268 hp and 343 Nm of torque, and a curb weight of 1,820 kg (4,012 lb), according to AutoExpress. 150 kW fast charging is included. The smart #1 has a Cd of 0.29 and a range of 440 km (273 miles). There will be no EPA range estimates as the car is not intended for Americans. It is a Europe and China only model, at least for now. Starting price in the UK is said to be £32,000, with deliveries beginning in the middle of next year. European deliveries are expected to begin in the early part of next year.

A smart History Lesson

The history of the smart car has more twists and turns than a downhill slalom course. According to Wikipedia, in 1982 Nicolas Hayek, CEO of SMH, the company that made Swatch watches, had an idea for a new car using the same type of manufacturing strategies and personalization features that made Swatch watches so popular. He believed that the automotive industry had ignored a sector of potential customers who wanted a small and stylish compact city car.

Hayek went looking for a auto manufacturer who would work with him to bring his idea to market using its sales network. Volkswagen was that company. But then, the autocratic Ferdinand Piech took over the management reins at VW and put the kibosh on the Swatchmobile, as Hayek’s car had come to be called. Hayek shopped his ideas to Fiat, BMW, GM, and Renault, but was turned down by all of them. Then Mercedes stepped up and agreed to form the Micro Compact Car company.

The cars were quirky and sales never did meet expectations. The smart brand languished until 2019 when Geely made a significant investment in Mercedes. The two companies then agreed to form a partnership to bring the smart brand forward into the 21st century. The smart #1, which will be built in China, uses the new Geely SEA electric car platform, the same one that forms the basis of the Zeekr 001.

The smart #1 Is All Grown Up

Geely has more brands than Nike has styles of running shoes, but outside of China, none of them feature the Geely name. Among other things, it owns Volvo Cars and Polestar as well as something called Lynk & Co. It is thinking about building an electric pickup truck and an electric semi. For the smart division, Geely will provide the basic architecture while Mercedes will provide the styling. The objective for the smart #1 is to compete with the Volkswagen ID.3 and Hyundai Kona EV. Mercedes head designer Gordon Wagener tells Autocar the new design language is called ‘Sensual Product’, adding that it is “grown up, cool and embodies beauty with smart solutions. It is new, fresh, and enchanting.”

Dirk Adelmann is the CEO of smart Europe. On the company website he says, “We are very proud to finally present the production version of our smart #1. It is not only a symbol for our new smart approach, but it is also the nucleus of all things to come. With the re-branding we will put an even greater focus on a seamless mobility experience.”

Over-the-air updates are enabled for most of the car’s functions and the emphasis is on connectivity. There is a 12.8-inch touchscreen for infotainment as well as a 9.2-inch high definition digital dash and a 10-inch head-up display that projects vital information onto the windshield in front of the driver’s eyes.

Yifeng Tan, Smart’s head of connected cars and products, tells Autocar, “China is very good at connectivity in terms of experiences, and by having this joint venture we are able to utilize the advantage from China. Our intelligence, telematics, and connectivity is not based on (the Mercedes) MBUX, it’s more leveraging our advantage from the Geely side.” He adds the software is not “fundamentally the same” as that used by the Zeekr 001, as smart needed to accommodate the specific needs and tendencies of European buyers.

The Takeaway

The smart #1 is a glimpse of the future through Geely’s eyes. It may presage a new small model from Volvo — possibly derived from the Geometry GX3 — as well as several vehicles from various brands that will leverage the SEA platform. Exactly what the retail strategy for the smart #1 has yet to be revealed, but the company says it will work with “experienced partners” to provide a “real and customer-oriented omni-channel experience along the entire customer journey.” A mix of online and offline strategies are planned.

The smart #1 is cute with curves in all the right places, but it is also capacious. There are 5 seats (the Concept only had four), 411 liters of cargo space inside, and even a frunk with another 15 liters of carrying capacity. It comes with a Level 2 driver assistance system package that features adaptive cruise control, stop and go technology, lane keeping assistance, blind spot detection, highway and traffic jam assist, automatic parking, and adaptive high beam headlights.

It’s unfortunate Americans won’t get a chance to buy one of these competent and stylish cars. It could be just what the doctor ordered to move the EV revolution forward in the US.

Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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