Hayek was quite the businessman and visionary—especially when you consider he was age 70 when the Smart car made its debut in 1998. The original concept for the Smart was to be able to carry two people and a case of beer according to an interview conducted with Hayek by Autoweek. Hayek was known for saving the Swiss watch industry by offering colorful and inexpensive timepieces. The real brilliance, at least in my opinion, was the colorful marketing that went along with the Swatch brand. Some experts say his approach is what saved the industry in Switzerland. One thing is clear, Hayek had vision and wanted to bring that same approach to the automotive industry.
For those of you that don’t know the history of the Smart, it was originally supposed to have removable body panels that would allow an owner to change the color of their car easily. He also envisioned a diesel powertrain to squeeze the most efficiency out of the proposed 1,800 lbs vehicle. Of course, with all things there had to be compromises. Hayek new he had to partner with a large automaker to make the car a success. The original deal was with VW, but that fell through and was then picked up by Mercedes. The Mercedes connection gave Smart many outlets for distribution, but even that partnership was dropped when they wouldn’t develop a hybrid powertrain, a must have in Hayek’s vision. The result is a car that has quite a following around the world…even here in the U.S. with some 14,000 units sold during last years recession.
To Nicolas Hayek, a true small car visionary. May his memory live on with every Smart car and Swatch.