Fully electric already planned as early as 1969
Even though smart itself only came onto the market with its first car in 1998, its roots go back to the late 1960s. When Professor Tomforde wanted to plan an electric city vehicle with an exchangeable battery for his diploma thesis. In 2017 he told to me that his professor advised him against it because it was too much fiction for him. Instead, his diploma thesis was then based on an amphibious vehicle.
However, that did not prevent him from pursuing the topic further over the years and finally being able to present the entire brand and thus his life's work to the world in 1998. I had already told the history of the electric fortwo (at that time still TECC and later MCC) in great detail in a trilogy up to its introduction in 1998:
- How Hayek's swatch car failed at VW
- How the 1969 TECC became MCC / smart in the 90s
- How Prof. Johann Tomforde builds up the smart brand (feat. Nicolas Heyek)
The 1st generation smart electric drive
After Prof. Tomforde unfortunately did not manage to launch the market in 1998 with an electric smart, smart caught up in 2006. For a test fleet in London, a company converted 100-200 (depending on the source) smart fortwo to electric drive. However, these were already technically obsolete in 2006, as they were still based on the technology of smart's prototypes from the 90s. With an motor output of 30 kW, the fortwo was as lively as its combustion engine colleagues, but the sodium-nickel-chloride battery was very impractical.
The smart's battery had a usable capacity of 13.5 kWh, but it was a high-temperature battery. Like all ZEBRA batteries from that time. That means it had to be kept at a constant temperature of 280°C and 320°C. The battery not only had to have this temperature when driving, but also when the car was parked. Depending on sources with comparable batteries from the time, the battery constantly needed about 80 W to stay at the temperature, which adds up heavily over the years. That's why the smart didn't come fully electric as early as the 90s, as originally intended.
Unfortunately, I don't know anything about the smart's charger, but it probably didn't manage more than 2.3 kW. Thus, its practical range of almost 100 km was recharged in a comfortable 6 hours.
Everything I know about the smart ED1 is also available in my wiki. In general, it was an unbuyable small series, which was rented out to end users of all kinds, primarily for test purposes. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about the vehicle. Anyone who knows more about this is welcome to contact me.
Because the smart 450 was planned to be fully electric, every combustion engine car also has the option of displaying a charging station.
The 2nd generation, now with Tesla technology
After the first generation was technically more than obsolet, Mercedes now needed outside help. This was obtained through a small and still unknown company from California: Tesla Motors
Tesla Motors was in the middle of developing the Tesla Roadster and had to economize massively on the money. So it was a blessing that Mercedes commissioned the development of this vehicle. Even if Tesla employees at the time told me that it had caused great tension within Tesla. I have also reported on this topic in the past.
In later interviews, Elon Musk reported that the first prototype had a Tesla Roadster drive and was capable of wheelies with almost 250 hp. He also stated that Tesla would no longer exist today without this cooperation. But the other way around, you also have to say: Without this cooperation, smart would have lost touch completely and would no longer exist today. It was Tesla's modern lithium-ion battery that made the vehicle suitable for everyday use.
BRABUS ULTIMATE HIGH VOLTAGE
This Tesla Roadster smart prototype later found its way to the premium tuner BRABUS and was presented as a study at the IAA in 2009. Then it was throttled to 61 kW and still had 280 Nm. The top speed was limited to 130 km/h and the 12 V system still mistook the vehicle for a Tesla Roadster. What happened to this unique vehicle after the IAA is unfortunately not known.
The result of the cooperation was a smart electric drive that was already very mature for the time; in 2009 there was nothing comparable. It would be years before others could bring something similar to the market. The finished vehicle had installed a Tesla battery with 1,600 typical Tesla round cells. This gives it a capacity of 16.6 kWh and a range of a good 100 km. Compared to the ED1, however, this could also be achieved at higher speeds. The charge of 20-80% took place in 4 hours and initially went through a camping plug, later vehicles then had an nowadays outdated form of type 2. Tesla later also used two such batteries in the 2012 - 2014 Toyota RAV4 EV.
Originally, 1,500 units were to be built, but due to demand, it ended up being around 2,300 units. Unfortunately, this generation was never sold to the public either. Customers could only rent it and had to give it back after 4 years at the latest. Many had also experienced these cars at car2go in the Stuttgart fleet.
Even if the smart ED2 still had quirks in retrospect, it was a truly remarkable vehicle at the time and also showed, for example, that an electric car did not have to be significantly heavier than a combustion engine. Its curb weight was 900 kg and the driving pleasure was already unique among the fortwo. In addition, smart was able to manufacture the ED2 in the smart factory on the same series production line as the petrol and diesel smart.
It was also remarkable that this generation was available with a solar roof. Using this 100 Wp solar panel on the roof from Webasto, which is exclusive to the car2go fleet, the vehicles were able to run the ventilation even when stationary. So that the interior did not become too uncomfortable in the blazing sun.
In my wiki you can also find more information about the smart ED2.
By the 3rd generation finally available for purchase
With the 3rd generation, the time had finally come in 2012: The smart electric drive was finally available for purchase. With a list price of €24,500 without battery, it was definitely not a bargain. But it was available and the rental battery model took away people's fear of batteries that would quickly fail. For €65 a month Europeans had a battery with no mileage limit and a guarantee that you had over 80% of the remaining capacity. Should he fall under it, it would be replaced free of charge.
But as it turned out, the batteries were extremely reliable and some of them nowadays have more than 500,000 km.
Incidentally, it was also the year 2012 when my parents saw a smart electric drive in its typical colors at the smart center in Saarbrücken and ordered ours shortly afterwards. Which today has over 275,000 km on the clock and was my first car. It kindled my enthusiasm for smart and is the basis of this website.
First series production vehicle with battery cells made in Germany
The capacity of the battery had hardly increased at 17.6 kWh, but Mercedes now had its own battery cell manufacturer. The German Li-Tech was a cooperation with Bosch and produced cells for more than 15,000 smart ED3. This means that 10 years later it is still the first and only electric car with made in Germany battery cells. In retrospect, it was remarkable what Mercedes had built there.
In addition, competencies in the field of electric motors had also been built up. Also working together with Bosch they had the Joint Venture EM-motive GmbH, which manufactured the 80 kW electric motor for the smart electric drive. This was also used in the Fiat 500e California and on the front axle of the Porsche 918 Spyder. Out of concern that the fortwo would tend to wheelies again with its rear-wheel drive, the motor was limited to 55 kW, or to 60 kW in the BRABUS. The big brother of the motor was installed 4x in the Mercedes Benz AMG SLS electric drive at the time.
The smart ED3 was the perfect gateway drug for many newcomers to e-mobility. It only had direct competition from the Renault Zoe, but was also able to keep up with her. The smart ED3 was also the first smart that was fast rechargeable. With AC 22 kW, it could be charged to 80% within 40 minutes. The 22 kW charger used for this came from Switzerland and is a popular feature today. Only about 20% of all smarties were ordered with it, the smart had a 3.7 kW charger as standard. It was also very compact, Tesla could only fit an 11 kW charger in the same space.
Also, this generation had its own app. The app showed the charge status of the vehicle and whether it was still charging. An extremely practical feature back then, since public charging stations were still a little unreliable. When you look at old press photos from that time, you realize how long ago that was. That was a completely different time when it came to e-mobility. For context: When we got our smart electric drive in 2013, there weren't even 10,000 electric cars on German roads. And that although the soapboxes and everything from the last 50 years was already included.
The smart ED3 was built until 2015. Although there was already a new model on the combustion engine side at that time. So there was a transition in that the old 451 electric drive series and 453 petrol engines rolled off the same assembly line. In addition, the ED3 is sometimes confused with the ED2 and people claim that it has Tesla technology installed.
Although the two look very similar, technically they are very different. Mercedes and smart had definitely learned from Tesla and you can still see that today, but they put their own development on the wheels. The difference between the two can be seen visually in the green tone of the tridion cell. Above all, however, that the Tesla-smart is a pre-facelift and the ED3 are all based on the facelift of the 451 series.
There is more information in my wiki about the smart ED3. The special editions are particularly exciting, there are some really nice ones.
The 4th generation smart electric drive and the EQ
In mid-2017 the time had finally come and we were presented with the current generation of the smart electric drive. At that time it was still marketed as "electric drive" and unfortunately not immediately available with the 22 kW charger. At a price of €21,940, it hardly seemed cheaper and with a battery capacity of 17.6 kWh, it disappointed quite a few.
But this time, too, a lot more had changed under the hood than you might think from the outside. That started with the price. Although it is hardly cheaper, it now included the battery. Customers had increasingly learned that batteries don't break and no longer wanted to rent them. Instead, there was now an 8-year or 100,000 km guarantee on the battery. As a result, the 4th generation was above all cheaper, including the battery around €8,000 and thus a third. Even if it didn't look like it from the outside and very few customers understood it.
The first three generations were available as a coupe and convertible, and the fourth generation was also available as a forfour. From a electrical standpoint of few the fortwo and forfour are identical.
The fact that smart had not neglected the topic of e-mobility over the years like Mercedes did now came to the brand's aid. Mercedes proudly presented their EQ study at the IAA in 2017 and was now increasingly in trouble. Mercedes still had nothing to show for themselves and the electric B-Class was terribly bad. I drove it back then and experienced it first hand. It was a great car, as every Mercedes is, but a horribly EV.
So it happened that in 2018 smart was given the EQ stamp and all new cars were then marketed as smart EQ. Even tho technically nothing had changed. The only exciting thing is that the delayed 22 kW charger was only installed in EQ branded vehicles.
With the smart EQ, smart slowly began to prepare for the all-electric future of the brand. As of 2018, there were only EVs for sale in the US and Norway and at the end of 2019 the last combustion engine was built by smart. The restructuring towards the smart that we know today began slowly. I reported back then what the idea behind it was.
Since the smart ED4 was primarily designed to finally be reasonably priced, a strategic cooperation partner was primarily used: Renault
Renault was extremely successful with the Zoe, leading the sales figures in Europe and already the partner of choice for the 453 series with combustion engines. So it happened that the powertrain was supplied by Renault. Only the battery came from the Mercedes battery pack manufacturer. Unfortunately, now with cells from LG chem. The charger was either a 4.6 kW charger as standard or unlocked to 7.2 kW in the US and European right-hand drive vehicles. The Zoe's 22 kW charger, with all its weaknesses and quirks, was available for an extra charge. Even if smart was able to get some things out of it, which was ultimately the reason for its delayed availability.
Personally, I was hoping for CCS with the smart ED4. Not directly to be able to charge faster than 22 kW, but to have a modern vehicle with the now established DC fast charging standard. The cells and the battery would also have easily managed up to 40 kW and the built-in BMS is also used in many Mercedes Benz hybrid vehicles that have CCS. Above all, I would have been interested in the possibility of DC charging. At that time, however, it was not yet clear to many that even a city car had to be able to use CCS. Today even every hybrid from Mercedes does this.
I assume that by the time production of the smart ED4 ended, over 75,000 had been built and that it was able to get at least that many people excited about e-mobility. It had the most comfortable chassis ever seen in a fortwo and also the smallest turning circle. From the outside, the little fun machine was hardly any different from its predecessor, but it had a lot of technical refinements and was another big step for the brand.
Many had wished for a slightly larger battery for the 2020 facelift, but unfortunately nothing came of it. In fact, the 22 kWh battery of the Renault Twingo was intended to be installed. But over the years smart / Mercedes and Renault got into more and more arguments and unfortunately nothing came of this idea. Even if it would technically fit into the smart without any problems, you would "only" have to make the car and the battery familiar with each other on the CAN bus.
Of course, I also have a detailed wiki entry for the smart ED4. This is a super exciting vehicle, especially when it comes to the details. Both in terms of known serial errors and but especially the "ready to" services were very innovative. The smartEQfortwo e-cup in Italy, a fully electric racing series with all the smart EQ fortwo in Italy, is also fun.
Of course with 2nd life for all batteries
Smart has also set up 2nd life power storage for the ED2, the ED3 and the ED4. These are the storages of the replacement batteries, since there are hardly any defective ones elsewhere. There, the batteries work together as large power storage devices for nice charging and discharging cycles and thus stabilize the power grid.
smart had already put a lot of time and effort into the subject of electric cars. There were definitely people with a lot of passion at work. Also, for example, specifically with the ED3. In order to have the fleet of smarties technically run on green electricity, a large wind turbine was specially purchased and operated. This generated so much electricity that the ED3 technically draw their electricity from this wind turbine.
The future of the electric smart fortwo
How exactly a future smart fortwo could look like is still uncertain. But smart never tires of emphasizing that the fortwo is not dead. Personally, I'm hoping for 2025, but I'm counting more on 2026 until we hear something from this little popular figure again. In any case, it will be a difficult start for it, as microcars are subject to increasing safety regulations, which make the cars more and more expensive.
In any case, I would like it to be introduced in the new #-family as smart #1/2.
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