|the smart car |
The smart car ( Swatch Mercedes Art ) is the brainchild of Nicolas Hayek, perhaps better known as CEO of Swatch, the watch company. Hayek's dream was the Swatchmobile, which would do for the small car what he had done for the watch, producing a car that wouldbe fun, cheap and simple yet environmentally sound, with electric or hybrid power.
Hayek initially teamed with Volkswagen in 1991, but the project was cancelled with adverse market research and a change of management at VW. Mercedes then stepped in as a partner and Micro Compact Car (MCC) was formed in 1994 as a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and SMH (the maker of Swatch watches). In 1998,Swatch pulled out and MCC became a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz, now DaimlerChrysler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.
|Fancy a makeover? Body panels can be easily changed |
The smart car launched in October 1998 is a 2-seater, 2.5m long by 1.5m wide - small enough that two or even three cars can squeeze into a standardparking space. The incorporation of the hybrid SwatchMobil system had proved problematic, so the car debuted with a conventional engine. It was also not as inexpensive as originally conceived, priced on a par with small 4-seaters.
Initial reception was lukewarm, and sales were well down on prediction (20,000 were sold in 1998 in contrast to the 200,000 predicted by Hayek) but it was a great success intraffic-strangled cities like Paris and Rome, and sales reached 80,000 the following year. The project, constantly at risk, has been expensive, with breakeven forecast for 2004. Nonetheless, it has achieved iconic status, with an exhibit at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art).
The smart car is built at a factory complex called smartville, located at Hambach in Lorraine, France. Completed in October1997, it is one of the most modern plants in the world. The car is designed to be highly modular, with modules / parts attached to a rigid integral "tridion" body frame. Design for assembly has received particular attention.
|now available as a fashion item in the Castelbajac |
Almosteverything is outsourced. The cross-shaped assembly building is surrounded by a number of other buildings housing the main systems suppliers:
• Magna: Space Frame
• Magna Uniport (Ymos): Doors
• Surtema Eisenmann: Paintshop
• Bosch: Front Powertrain, Breaks, Lights
• Mannesmann VDO: Cockpit
• Dynamit Nobel: Plastic Body Panels (see also Krauss-Maffei )
• KruppAutomotive Systems: Rear Powertrain
In addition, there are three on-site logistics partners:
• TNT logistics: spare part facility
• Rhenus: storage for small parts
• MTL: ships finished cars to dealers
Around 85% of of the cost of goods and nearly half the capital investment is accounted for by these suppliers (plus the 3 on-site logistics partners). Less than half of smartville'sworkforce and a minority of production workers are on the MCC payroll. MCC has almost no inventory - basically just the finished cars coming out of inspection on the way to shipping, due to a policy of 'pay-on-build'.
Assembly time is 4.5 hours. The basic frame of the car is powder-coated (not painted) black - the colour is provided by dent-resistant plastic body panels which are designed to bechangeable by the owner (as a fashion statement).
The distribution concept is also novel, with cars displayed in automated glass towers at smart centres, ready to be driven away.
The original two-seater, now known as the 'fortwo', has been joined by a roadster and a four-seater 'forfour' (based on the Mitsubishi Colt platform) with a larger SUV planned, the 'formore' (based on the Mercedes-Benz...