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smart Cars at Gerotek

Broadcast date : 15th October 2006

It seemed a smart idea at the time. Take Swatch, the Swiss designer watch company, which came up with the concept, mix in Mercedes-Benz manufacturing expertise, add that indefinable essence called art, and this what you end up with. Smart. With a small "s".

The idea took off big time in Europe, but many people wondered whether the smart would work in South Africa, with its wide-open spaces.

What has happened in South Africaís busy city centres is that the smart is seen as a designer-label car.

What smart owners and sellers realised is that, some four-years after launch, people who were buying smarts felt as though they were part of a club. So the next step was to do clubbie things with smarts.

The smart ownerís club, amazingly enough, now has some 300 members, making it one of the larger one-make clubs in the country.

Quite apart from the carís obvious city utility, smart researchers noted that owners were very lifestyle orientated people, and that over 90 per cent of them were dog-lovers.

Hence smart gatherings tend towards the outdoors, like this one at the Gerotek testing facility, north-west of Pretoria.

A feature of smart sales in South Africa has been to businesses, both large and small. Because everyone stops and stares at a smart, especially the tiny ForTwo model, they make ideal mobile billboards.

At the same time they engender lots of love amongst their owners.

The smart cult reminds us very much of the one surrounding the original Volkswagen Beetle. It seems the art factor is very much alive and well amongst the smarties, and sometimes means of expression and entrepreneurship cross over, with the smart as the meeting point.

ALP concepts install any number of small business installations Ė from fast food vendor packs to even mobile office layouts.

Itís an old idea with a new spin thatís taking off. And unlike the old ice cream kombis, smartís donít need squawky music to attract attention, or drive your dogs crazy.

It kind of makes you hungry just looking at this smart little pie dispenser.

There are all sorts of smarts on the roads. While most people relate to the baby pram-like ForTwo as the typical smart, the Roadster sports model was also launched, followed by the more conventional ForFour model.

Unfortunately for smart, these two models have been discontinued. The roadster, with its small three-cylinder engine, was considered a great idea but needing more power, and it also suffered from a lazy semi-automatic gear shift.

The ForFour launched later was much more conventional, but this was its problem. It was too ordinary in a very competitive market segment to really take off.

Nevertheless a new smart ForTwo model is on the cards by 2008, and plans are to revive the roadster concept with South African design genius Gordon Murray said to be behind the project.

Against heavy odds, then, the smart seems to be happening in South Africa. And hereís a thought. If everyone drove smarts, the traffic queues on the way to work would only half as long!

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