Size matters. As its clever marketing slogan "reduced to the max" suggests, the Smart Car has been developed to maximize the convenience, comfort, and safety of driver and passenger, while minimizing the impact on the environment. Low fuel consumption (averaging 49 miles per gallon) and eco-friendly methods of production distinguish this two-passenger car from the others on the market.
The Smart Car was developed in the early 1990s at the Mercedes-Benz design studio in Irvine, California, where a team of engineers and designers, led by Gerhard Steinle, created the prototype. The design and marketing strategy was further developed with input from the Swatch watch company. Cars are sold at "Smart Centers" throughout Europe, where the brightly colored vehicles are stacked in towers like objects in a display case, clearly aimed at youthful, style-conscious consumers seeking an affordable car.
The Smart Car's body reveals a clear, functional, modular design. The black frame of reinforced steel—the so-called Tridion safety cell—gives the vehicle its inherent strength. The safety cell defines the car as an integral unit, enabling the Smart Car to be conveniently short for a city car, without the front and back ends that project beyond the passenger compartment in a conventional vehicle. The steel frame is coated with powder paint, considerably less harmful to the environment than conventional painting processes. Colorful, lightweight body panels made of recycled plastic are virtually dent-resistant and rust-free. They are easily exchanged for a new set whenever the owner wants to change color. The interior is unexpectedly spacious. The engine is located below the passengers, allowing space to be conserved and seats to be given additional height.
Smart Car ("Smart & Pulse" Coupé). 1998
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 353.