March 3, 2011
The Smart brand is facing considerable challenges in the U.S. market, but the forspeed concept unveiled here at the Geneva Motor Show is a zippy piece of bug-eyed inspiration that might potentially breath life into the ailing brand–if Smart plays its cards right.
In much the same way that BMW’s Mini ambitious concepts have inspired viable production cars, Smart’s experimental design offers a whimsical take on an open-air city car. Powered by an electric motor, the forspeed is an ultra short wheelbase two-seat roadster that’s designed to withstand the elements, thanks to a tonneau cover that protects the cabin by stretching across the interior and attaching with straps. Drainage channels in the floorboard offer a place for rainwater to exit, and a waterproof coating throughout interior surfaces keeps the moisture from–ahem, spoiling the fun.
The cabin was inspired by classic aircraft design, with two turbine-like instrument pods facing driver and passenger. An integrated smartphone mount swivels 90 degrees to offer a GPS view for the driver, and just like production Smart cars, an iPhone app helps the driver locate the forspeed when it’s parked. The usual handsfree capabilities are also offered. One trick feature boasted by the forspeed concept: photovoltaic cells embedded in the windscreen, which help extend driving range by powering the car’s onboard electrical system.
The forspeed is motivated by a rear-mounted electric motor that’s powered by a lithium-ion battery and produces 30 kW, allowing the diminutive roadster achieve 60 km/h (37 mph) in 5.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 120 km/h (74 mph.) Feeling antsy? Hit the “boost” button, and you’ll get an extra 5 kW of energy for strategically timed passing maneuvers. Total range is an estimated 135 kilometers (or 83 miles), which makes the forspeeed more of an urban runabout vehicle than a long distance daily driver. When drained, the lithium-ion battery recharges using a 220-volt outlet, and 80 percent of its charge can be replenished within a mere 45 minutes via a flip-out Smart logo that uses a push/push mechanism.
Boasting a promising power-to-weight ratio thanks to its fiberglass-reinforced body and single-piece components, the Smart forspeed certainly seems to have its heart in the right place, a nebulous but well-intentioned area where ecological concerns intersect with a cartoonish countenance and an optimistic sense of joie de vivre. And while the forspeed’s focused form and limited function might make a tough sell in the real world, Smart would do well by tapping into its exuberant energy and spunky originality; that approach that might go a long way towards putting the boutique brand in line with its core values, and back on track to a profitable future.
Basem Wasef is an automotive journalist, author, and photographer with two coffee table books under his belt, and is a regular contributor to Popular Mechanics, Robb Report, and Maxim among others. When Basem isn’t traveling the globe testing vehicles, he enjoys calling Los Angeles home.