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Smart Forspeed concept signals new design direction

Sun, 20 Feb 2011

Smart will unveil a new concept at the forthcoming Geneva motor show that signals a new design direction, hints at future product and confirms parent company Daimler's renewed commitment to the brand.

Car Design News was granted early access to the concept, baptized Forspeed, at a secret photography studio in Stuttgart last week and heard the head of advanced design, Steffen Kohl, explain how the two-seat, electric-powered vehicle prefaces design themes in both the next Fortwo and the revived Forfour, which will be launched in 2014.

"The fullness of this concept's exterior surfaces is important and will be reflected in future production models," said Kohl, "Smart will still be short, spacey, agile, and with wheels at the corners of the car, but with an added sporty and emotional design and without losing all the brand's iconic elements like its ‘plastic fantastic' aspect and the safe and hi-tech modular tridion shell assembled with all these changeable body parts. And on the interior, it will simply be more valuable, using more precious parts. I'm sure it will be an unbeatable combination."

Look beyond the Forspeed concept's similarity of package to the old Crossblade – it is also roofless, windowless, and sporting a mini-windscreen – and there is a car that is wider, a bit longer and much fuller in its volumes, especially on its sides, witness the curve on the contrast-color section by the rear lights as just one example.

Kohl said all Mercedes' global studios contributed to the proposal – up to 50 designers were involved at the outset – with the concept and strategy ultimately led out of its design HQ in Sindelfingen, Germany.

Compared to Smart's current models, the exterior grille has become bigger and more elongated and features a much bigger badge within it, instead of on the hood above. The grille itself features variable-sized 3D hexagonal holes that could also make production as Kohl added: "It's one of the solutions we are following, although we haven't finished it yet. It fits the shape of the solar cells on the windscreen and it's a very good tool to show these alternative powertrain situations. It does not mean it will look exactly like this though."

The striking 'ring-and-highlight'-shaped headlights are also new but due to the limits of current legislation and LED intensity will not feature in future production Smarts in this form said Kohl. However something like the rear lights – that echo those seen on the recent eScooter concept at 2010's Paris motor show – could.

Inside, is arguably the biggest difference for Smart, with an array of high quality touches and finishes, including the natural brown leather wrap around the contrasting shiny white plastic steering wheel and matte metal gearstick plus an iPhone dock that can be angled within its own separate passenger cowl.

All these details send the message that Smart intends to move upmarket as a brand and offer more Fiat 500 and Mini-style customization options through its just announced Smart foryou program. But not at the expense of jettisoning its 'everyman' appeal as Kohl continued: "This show car is the high-end story, but we will also keep the idea that Smart is a car for the people, although never cheap in execution and technology."

After years in the doldrums – when Smart shrunk from a multi-model brand including a roadster, coupe and even the radical stripped-out limited edition Crossblade back to become a single model brand – the expansion plans would seem to be back on track. Smart sources also unofficially confirmed the brand will launch production versions of its recent electric scooter and bike concepts from early 2013 so that when the Fortwo and Forfour arrive by 2014, it will again be a four-model brand.  

By Guy Bird