It was supposed to be the future of mobility , tiny and fuel efficient , yet cute and stylish .
The smart car was the perfect solution to congested city driving .
But in just two decades , the smart company went from selling almost 200,000 vehicles a year to losing an estimated half a billion dollars annually .
In 2019 , owner Daimler stopped selling the brand in North America and nearly ax the company altogether .
So just what happened to everyone's favorite microcar .
The idea for the smart car came from Swiss businessman Nicholas Hayek , founder of the Swatch Group watch company .
Hayek wanted a fashionable compact city car that was both easy to park and customize .
After over a decade of looking for the right automaker to develop the car .
Hayek convinced Mercedes Benz parent company , Daimler to partner with him .
The deal was made official in 1994 and they named the proposed vehicle smart short for Swatch .
Mercedes Benz Art Daimler debuted the smart city coup in 1997 at the Frankfurt Motor Show .
The car went into production the following year and was sold in nine European countries after a slow start sales skyrocketed by almost 900% in 1999 by 2000 annual sales reached over 100,000 cars .
In 2004 .
Daimler released the four door smart 44 .
The slightly larger model helped Smart's overall sales in Europe peak at nearly 135,000 cars for the year .
Unfortunately , the 44 sales couldn't keep up .
And after just a few years , Daimler axed the mini S U V but the original smart car now renamed the Ford Two with finding an audience in urban Europe for green drivers .
Its average CO2 emissions of 100 17 g per kilometer were less than the first Toyota Prius making it more environmentally friendly than a hybrid .
And it's still got better gas mileage .
American automotive mogul Roger Pinsky noticed the popularity of the smart for two in Europe .
In 2007 , Pinsky partnered with Mercedes Benz and purchased the US distribution rights to smart sales .
But while Pinsky had counted on the great recessions record high gas prices to make the smart car appealing .
It wouldn't last .
The economy bounced back .
Fuel prices fell and even the micro cars novelty suddenly wore off .
In 2008 , almost 25,000 smart cars were sold in the U S3 years later , annual sales fell around 5000 cars and Pinsky quickly sold all us distribution rights to Daimler .
It turns out Americans weren't over their love of S U V s specifically crossovers .
These small S U V S got the same gas mileage as sedans but had twice the cargo space as Hayek himself had originally said the smart car was designed with just enough room to fit two people and a case of beer .
The smart 42 was also widely perceived by buyers as unsafe , even though its safety ratings were just as good as most compact S U V s .
That's because the car's body was built around a high strength steel safety show .
Still consumers didn't feel safe inside a car that was much smaller than anything else on the road .
By 2015 , smart sales in the US were on a sharp decline once Daimler removed gasoline models from the US in 2017 , leaving only the electric 42 E Q available sales plummeted further in 2018 , smart sold just 1276 cars in the US .
The following year , the company pulled the plug on all North American operations .
Despite these failures , smart sales have remained steady in Europe where there are more congested city streets and stricter emission laws with only one factory and high cost labor .
The smart car is expensive to make .
Daimler doesn't report smart's finances but experts estimate smart cars lose Daimler over 500 million annually .
In 2019 , Daimler was on the cusp of dropping the smart brand altogether .
Instead , the company decided to take it where all struggling car brands seem to go in search of a new audience .
China Dimon partnered with Geely , the company of and invested to build a smart car factory in the country beginning worldwide sales by 2022 the goal is to transform smart into a China based all electric brand smart even has an S U V scheduled for 2023 .
Whether moves like these can save the smart brand remain to be seen .
But as an E V company , China could be its best option with more electric cars sold there than any other countries combined between lower manufacturing costs and some of the world's most congested roads , the country could be exactly what the brand has needed all these years .