smart turns 20: 20 years of thinking forward

Back in 1995, I was a “lateral entrant” into the Daimler Group as the Head of Communications of Mercedes-Benz. At that time, preparations for the launch of the smart brand were in full swing, providing plenty of material for discussions between advocates and opponents of this revolutionary concept of a new kind of urban mobility. Now we are celebrating 20 years of smart – a personal review.

Early on, I was given an opportunity to sit down in a fortwo and check out its simply incredible spatial concept. Right away, I experienced a “Wow!” effect — and even today, I feel it every time I merely open the door of one of our models. I quickly became the proud owner of a smart coupe, which I still own today.

As I continued along my career path, I repeatedly knocked very carefully on the relevant doors and asked whether I could take on a role within the smart organization, because this unique brand had completely cast its spell over me. Today I’m still deeply happy and grateful that I was eventually appointed to head this newly created unit in mid-2010.

My years in this position brought me some really difficult moments, and they were definitely the most challenging years of my career. But the enthusiasm of the entire team, as well as our dealers, customers, and fans, as they work to make the “vision of the smart” a reality has enabled us again and again to “climb every mountain” and then join together to celebrate each of our successes.

That’s why the best conclusion I could have imagined for this period was our celebration of the smart’s 20th birthday. This was the first time that the entire smart family had met in smartville, our affectionately named factory in Hambach, France.

Vor 20 Jahren, am 01. Juli 1998, ist in smartville, unser „Job #1 smart“ vom Band gerollt.

20 years since Job Number 1 — and that’s not all.

Our “Job #1 smart” rolled off the assembly line in smartville 20 years ago, on July 1, 1998. The smart is 20 years old — this is a wonderful occasion for the entire worldwide smart family to celebrate! But we’re celebrating more than just the 20th birthday of our car — we’re also celebrating the realization of the guiding principles of the smart.

From the very beginning, “smart” was far more than a car. It’s the grand idea of a completely new kind of urban mobility. For many of our customers and fans, the smart is even an attitude, a way of life.

However, initially the smart was definitely ahead of its time. Many people certainly can still remember how much this progressive vehicle concept was laughed at in the beginning and caricatured as an “elephant’s roller skate” and a “spark plug with a roof.” But thanks to the audacity and persistence of its founders and many subsequent BoM members and managers at Daimler, for a long time now smarts have been driving in city streets all over the world as a matter of course. Dieter Zetsche described the situation perfectly when he said:

If the smart didn’t exist, we would have had to invent it.

20 Jahre smart: Britta Seeger, Annette Winkler und Jürgen Hubbert.

Bold managers: Britta Seeger, the BoM member who is responsible for smart today, and Prof. Jürgen Hubbert, who held this position during the smart’s early years.

But the group we have to thank first of all for the smart brand’s success story is our wonderful smart family. All of them — our team, our dealers, our customers, and our fan community — have supported themselves with tremendous passion and discipline to the idea of smart, to more efficiency, higher quality, and a unique team spirit.

This attitude, which we call our “smart spirit,” is the magic potion that makes our “small smart Gallic village” invincible. And it’s this attitude that several thousand smart employees and fans celebrated. In the midst of it all, I felt how endlessly thankful I am for having been able to work together with these fantastic people for the last eight years to advance the smart’s development just a little bit further.

20 Jahre smart: viele Fans feiern das Jubiläum in Hambach.

Feeling the spirit: smart fans and our team at the birthday party in Hambach.

Its time has finally come

And because our smart spirit is felt by so many people, I’m convinced that smart doesn’t need to have any fears about the future. Today smart is still a pioneer, even though the times have finally almost caught up with it. The time is now right for the smart and for the vision that motivates us: making city living easier for our customers and improving their quality of life.

We are the first automobile brand to completely convert our portfolio to electric mobility. That has been the vision of smart from the very beginning. The connection between the smart and the smartphone is making it possible today to realize another part of our founders’ vision: systematically connecting smart vehicles with a series of new services in order to restructure and expand the smart brand into a mobility brand to make urban life easier.

I’m delighted that Katrin Adt is taking over the helm at exactly this point in time. She’s a person who combines all of the talents that are needed to continue moving the smart brand ahead. She knows that business is done by people and for people’s benefit, and she has made this attitude a guiding principle of her life.

Annette Winkler, head of smart together with her successor Katrin Adt. (from right to left)

Looking forward to the future

Katrin Adt: I still feel shivers along my spine when I think about our smart’s 20th birthday party. Every person there — employees, dealers, fans, and partners — radiated so much passion, enthusiasm, and energy!

It was very moving to realize that this little rebel, which has been warning the automotive industry for 20 years now that the future of mobility will look different from the present, has again and again throughout its history found bold pioneers who have done their utmost to continue making this vision a reality.

Annette Winkler is one of these great pioneers. I’ve known her for almost 20 years now, and she has always had the reputation of being a “Robin Hood.” She has brought honor to this name at smart! And when I take over the baton from her in the near future, I will do so with great pleasure but also tremendous respect for this responsibility.

My task will be nothing less than continuing the story of one of the truly great ideas of our time!