The first of the new Smart cars produced by Micro Compact Car AF (MCC) was launched as the Smart city-Coupé in nine European countries in 1998. And though the original idea was to employ a hybrid powertrain, consumers of those early new Smart models warmly embraced the model’s conventional rear-engine, rear-drive powertrain.
With the success of the City-Coupé, an effort was made to expand the model range. This resulted in the development of the Smart Roadster; along with a rear-engine, rear-drive, four-door, four-seat supermini, called the Smart Forfour. Plans also included the creation of a minivan to be called Formore. The City-Coupé was renamed the Smart Fortwo to fit the revised model name strategy.
Ultimately, all of the other models failed—leaving only the Smart Fortwo in its coupe and convertible guises. After losing quite a bit of money, Smart GmbH was dissolved. Its operations were absorbed directly into what was then known as DaimlerChrysler. Daimler-Benz had merged with the Chrysler Corporation in 1998.
A partner in the development of the cars, Daimler-Benz eventually bought the company altogether, making MCC a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz. The name was changed, first to MCC Smart GmbH in 1999, then to Smart GmbH in 2000.
Smart cars came to the United States in 2008, marketed for Daimler-Benz by Roger Penske’s Penske Automotive Group. Prior to this, new Smart cars had been imported as grey market items, which were then modified to meet American emissions and crash standards. The formal announcement of the deal between DaimlerChrysler and the Penske Automotive Group came in June of 2006.
Penske’s organization created a U.S. dealership network for the new Smart models from the ground up and offered an updated version of the new Smart Fortwo cars at a price starting at $12,000. For customers, the process of acquiring the car originally entailed placing a reservation over the Internet for $99. The initial wait was about 12 months. By 2011 though, it was obvious sales were too slow to support an independent dealer network.
The deal with Penske was scrapped and Mercedes-Benz USA assumed responsibility for marketing new Smart models in the United States. The current line up (as of July 2013) consists of the Smart Fortwo “Cabriolet”, which is the high-cost convertible version; the Smart Fortwo “Passion”, which is the mid-priced moonroof version of the hardtop coupe; the Smart Fortwo “Pure”, the low-cost basic version of the coupe; and the Smart Fortwo “Electric Drive”, the electric version of the micro car offered in both coupe and convertible configurations.