DAIMLER-BENZ and Micro Compact Car have been marketing the Smart for several years to prepare the public for a two-seat, fashionable city car.
Last week, the car was presented to journalists in Barcelona.
Journalists were generally critical, says Dutch writer Wim Oude Weer-nink, one of those who attended. 'It is as stiff as a go-kart,' said one writer. 'The adaptive electronic clutch is too slow,' said another.
Stories about the car appear on Pages 20 and 21.
Meanwhile, we asked automotive analysts what they think of the Smart as a business proposition.
Greg Melich, Morgan Stanley & Co. International
'Mercedes seems to be making up applications for the car, but it seems to have no definite purpose other than a vehicle for occasional use.'
Peter Schmidt, AID
'I think five years from now another manufacturer, like Fiat, may reap the rewards of Mercedes' efforts in this field. Mercedes will pay the penalty of being the first to do it, because the Smart is ahead of its time.'
David Leggett, director of Forecast Services, CSM Europe, UK
'The Smart ... is innovative, and it addresses the problem of urban transportation.'
John Lawson, analyst, Salomon Smith Barney, London
'When electric versions are available, people like Electricite de France or Swiss Railways are going to be getting together to have banks of these things waiting. Until we get to that stage, the vehicle will live in a bit of a transition period, with reasonable sales levels.'
Nigel Griffiths, Standard & Poor's DRI
'It's a personal statement of transport, rather than a mode of transport, and Mercedes is having to work out how to fit it into human psychology.'