2014 Smart ForTwo Elecric DriveEnlarge Photo
Cars described as "ahead of their time" are usually regarded fondly, but often commercially unsuccessful--the resulting vehicles often too unusual for many consumers.
Daimler's Smart brand and the Fortwo minicar fits that bill and could well be described as ahead of its time, but company boss Dieter Zetsche believes the brand's time may finally have come.
Speaking to Autocar, he explained that Smart was the answer to a question "more relevant now than when we started it".
The firm first started producing its tiny two-seat ForTwo back in 1998, but while sales have been decent--particularly in European cities--the car's relatively complicated nature means costs have been high, and profits not forthcoming.
In the early to mid 2000s the brand experimented with a more mainstream vehicle, the four-seat ForFour co-developed with Mitsubishi, as well as a two-seat Roadster with the city car's running gear.
These too struggled to make an impact in the European market and were dropped after just a few years. And in the U.S, where the ForTwo has officially been available since 2008, sales have been low.
Zetsche is positive about the company though, and believes the development of more major metropolitan areas and increasing congestion make a compact vehicle like the Smart ever more relevant.
The tie-up with French automaker Renault could help, too. The two firms have worked together on the next-generation Smart ForTwo (Renault's version will carry the Twingo name), and Smart sees the French marque as "the right partner".
In Europe, where city center regulations are getting tighter and parking is ever more at a premium, Zetsche could well be onto something. A four-seat Smart is sure to extend the brand's appeal further now than when it last tried the formula in 2006, and the Renault connection will reduce costs.
In the U.S. though, where parking is easier, roads are larger and gas is cheaper, it may still be some time before the tiny two-seaters become a real alternative to simpler, more traditional budget cars.