Why did Smart kill off the Roadster?

In the words of Jeremy Clarkson, if we all bought cars with nothing more than reason, we’d all have Golfs. A well-built hatchback can be used for anything if you think about it, though if you’d dissect the argument further, you’ll find some holes. Let’s say you’re a young single man that has to commute long distances, alone and with little luggage. A Golf can do the trick, but then there’s the matter of those empty seats and cargo area, and all that extra metal’s weight pulling on an engine that’s probably to large to begin with anyway.

Ideally, you’d be perfectly served by a small two-seater with a tiny little engine. Perhaps at this point, the… thing called the Smart Fortwo will spring to mind. Let me explain something: the Fortwo is no more than a glorified microcar, that hipsters buy in order to look cool. Or at least think that in order to convince themselves they haven’t been ripped off for not having bought an Aixam instead.

I’m referring to a proper car, not a tupperware on wheels, so if you look through a list of production cars, few or none will fit the bill. Four-seater coupés are more or less rife, but that’s not what’s called for. Perhaps a Lotus Elise is adequate, but it’s more of a lead-footed, race-crazed maniac’s choice of ride, so we can rule it out on the grounds of common sense (not that I have anything against driving round really fast, in fact, it must be a hoot, I just don’t see why it should be done on public roads).

The car in particular I want to subtly get round to is the Smart Roadster. It embodies an approach to cars I would have thought would’ve been anathema to any other car enthusiast but myself: a car that looks good, looks fast and utterly miserly consumption-wise. The only fault with this logic was that because it was mid-engined and, in some cases, came with a flappy-paddle gearbox, it was perceived, sold and generally driven as a cut-price sports car. I like to think of it as a practical, little long-range cruiser, and both opinions are perfectly pertinent. Sounds like a recipe for success, so why did Smart kill it off?

This question is of course the title of this article, though it has a more philosophical purpose than begging for an outright answer. According to the Wikipedia page, production ended due to the high amount of warranty claims, so commercial success wasn’t the determinate factor for this decision. They terminated it because it was unreliable. This speaks volumes of Smart’s mother company, Mercedes, and it’s current state. Ask any Merc driver why he bought one and he’ll spout out useless prattle regarding “build quality” and “reliability”. First, as Mercedes themselves admit their current crop is far from the solidity of their robust machines of old. Second, if it was commercially viable, wouldn’t it have been cleverer to address and correct these reliability issues? Smart could have exclusivity in a niche of small cheap sports cars, different from the closest competitor, the more expensive, bigger-engined and thirstier Mazda MX-5. A niche no-one else has even bothered to fill, which is surprising given that the market showed its appetite for such things. After all, 43,000 Roadsters were sold in its two year run, not a number to be sniffed at.

Clever people have recognised what a good idea the Roadster is, and have given hints on restarting production. Project Kimber kicked off practically as soon as the Roadster was axed, and even a promising concept, the AC Ace (“AC” as in “AC Cobra”) was unveiled, with a restyled front end. This version has a 1.0-litre engine, which I’m not too sure about, compared with the brilliantly titchy 0.7 powerplant of the original. But alas, the official website is down, and no news has surfaced.

So, we’ll have to wait and see if the current climate of thinking up cheap, economical and eco-friendly cars produces an heir to the Smart Roadster.

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One Response to “Why did Smart kill off the Roadster?”

  1. Bernardo Says:

    Alexander….I used the wrong interior for the C6. Thank you for pointing that out. I appreciate your feedback. Come back soon.

    I would like you to please check out the blog “Man on the Move”.

    The Civilized Gentlemen

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