Nicholas Hayek is a name that is nothing short of the messiah in the world of Swiss horology. Thanks to him, and his simple, affordable and cute little watches, an industry that dominated the world was able to stay alive and was on the verge of falling to its knees in the face of a more precise and cheaper offer from Japan.
The episode was called the Quartz Crisis, in which complicated Swiss clock mechanisms could be replaced by astonishingly simpler systems with the quality of not slowing down as long as there was a battery that allowed them to beat at 32,768 hertz.
The brand that was born in 1983, Swatch, was the first Swiss manufacturer to adopt the new technology and to return prominence to an industry that had looked condescendingly at the competition that was going to eliminate them. Today, it is the largest Swiss watchmaking group in the world.
A decade later, Hayek decided to do something similar with the automotive world and create a simple, affordable and friendly vehicle. In the nineties, the Volkswagen Group was enjoying impressive success for being one of the first manufacturers to enter the lucrative Chinese market, something that Mercedes-Benz rejected.
Therefore, when Hayek approached the Wolfsburg group with Smart’s business idea, they rejected it. In short, they were already “the people’s car” and did not need another simple, affordable and nice model – the Beetle still had 20 years of production left. Daimler, chastened, seized the opportunity and by 1998 had already taken over the brand.
Like watches, Smart cars generated a cult following. Unlike watches, They were not an overwhelming sales success.. Within the manufacturer, different models were launched, whether two or four doors, convertibles, sports or electric. However, it was not enough to guarantee the survival of the brand.
Thus, in 2019, the Chinese manufacturer Geely —which controls brands such as Volvo, Polestar, Lotus or Lynk&Co— took over the Smart emblem with the intention of making a complete ‘turnaround’ and occupying the niche of urban cars and the young public.
The solution is the Smart #1, which in its Brabus finish is the most powerful thing they have to offer after starting from scratch with an SUV silhouette. These are the numbers: 428 electric horses. 1.9 tons. Five doors. Acceleration from 0 to 100 in 3.9 seconds. 400 km of autonomy. 50,000 euros.
However, what is striking about this car is how the cabin has been designed to please the young public. The number of RGB LED strips allow you to modify the interior color infinitely, which is more reminiscent of an Ibai streaming room than a car. The screen is big and colorful, with a virtual assistant who, for some reason, is a fox.
The vehicle speaks in first person with a female voice. “My battery is low, charge me,” he told me, after I tried Brabus mode several times. The acceleration of something so powerful does not fail and always manages to elicit a laugh from those who expect it and a scream from those who do not.
The sound system is, of course, Beats of Dr. Dre, which are also backlit to match the LEDs in the cabin, whether neon green or fuchsia. As a curiosity, the speaker lights are also used for signaling: they illuminate red if there is a vehicle in the lane that is going to be invaded. And better yet, it doesn’t stop them from making the bass boom—something millennials can’t live without.
Smart #1 has many technological touches that show how car design can be done by breaking away from traditional industry design. As such, it sometimes feels more like a ‘gadget’ than a car. But the price, finishes and power quickly remind you that this is a serious offer.
In the 1980s, Asian manufacturers almost wiped out a European mechanical industry stuck in the past. Smart #1 highlights that, 40 years later, this threat may once again be a reality.