smart is a division of Daimler, the outfit best known as the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, that produces a single model - the Lilliputian fortwo supermini.
The idea for smart was originally conceived in the late 1980s by Swiss watchmaker Swatch, which wanted to create a nimble, stylish city car with the same personalization options that set its timepieces apart.
After pitching the concept to numerous automakers and entering into an...
aborted alliance with Volkswagen, Swatch finally teamed up with Daimler in 1994 to make its subcompact a reality. By 1998, the fruit of the partnership began arriving in showrooms in Europe in the form of the smart fortwo.
Though tiny outside, the fortwo possessed a surprisingly spacious two-seater cabin, and its sturdy "Tridion" safety cell helped allay consumer fears about sharing roads with trucks and semis. The latter could act a canvas on which owners could specify - and then swap out - different contrasting colors, one of many neat customization options for the car.
In 2007, after 770,000 examples of the fortwo had found new homes, a slightly larger and more powerful second-generation model made its debut. It was this model that would finally find its way to the United States in 2008.
Though often praised as an efficient and sensible runabout in the city, the fortwo is less at home on the highways of the U.S., where its modest power becomes an issue in passing situations. An excessively rough semi-automated manual gearbox is also a common source of criticism.
A recently-introduced, all-electric fortwo electric drive model provides buyers an even more environmentally-responsible smart option that's capable of driving 90 miles on a single charge.
Thus far, U.S. sales have been modest, but Damiler isn't about to give up hope. The company is currently working with partner Renault-Nissan to develop a new, more refined fortwo as well as a model that might better appeal to American tastes - a larger forfour model with sufficient space to seat four passengers.