DETROIT (Jan. 19, 11:55 a.m. ET) — When the Smart car first appeared in the 1990s, it was intended to change the image of what a small car could be with its two seats and interchangeable thermoplastic body panels.
The brand never appealed as anything more than a quirky item to U.S. buyers, but now Smart — owned by Daimler AG — hopes to change the image once again with an open-roof mini pickup truck.
“It was always the story of rethinking what we can do,” said Smart's marketing manager, Julia Knittel, after the debut of the for-us concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 9. “Now we're looking at what we bring to the market, and what else we can do, but still keep everything that stands for Smart.”
During its introduction, the Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker stressed that the North American concept of a truck is a very familiar one — four wheels, an open bed and two people sitting in front. That has been true from the pioneers' wagons to today's trucks used to haul produce to a farmer's market.
The for-us concept is an all-electric-powered vehicle that expands the body from the existing fortwo car, adding nearly 3 feet in length and 2 more inches in width. Its body panels use the steel safety structure of the fortwo, but opening the tailgate provides easy access to the cargo area.
Both the passenger area and the cargo bed are open to the elements, and Daimler designed the truck bed to hold two electric Smart e-Bikes.
“This Smart for-us has all a perfect urban pickup needs,” said Smart CEO Annette Winkler. “But it's different, and it comes in a package only Smart can deliver.”
Officially, Daimler is using the concept as a study to judge consumer reaction to a potential smart pickup, Knittel said, but the hope is that it will open a few eyes to the proposal of the Smart brand as a whole to North American consumers who never considered the small vehicle before.