The Smart car is doing just what it was supposed to do - give DaimlerChrysler a glimpse of the future, with all its perils and promise.
If it is a flop, then it is a flop that will yield plenty - maybe more than if the clean-sheet, two-seat minicar had been an easy success story. What other manufacturers wouldn't pay for the knowledge accumulated at Micro Compact Car.
To be sure, it has been a painful first year. A blast of criticism by motoring journalists (accustomed to the comfort and performance of modern mid-sized sedans) was followed by a winter safety scare. Sales were hit hard.
But after technical and marketing adjustments - and relatively few adjustments at that - the Smart is finding customers. The big ideas behind the little car are still valid. The rest of the auto industry is still paying close attention.
To extend market coverage, D/C will supplement its 110 Smart Center sales outlets with up to 1,000 Mercedes-Benz sites operating as sub-dealers. The Smart Centers, with their novice auto sales staffs, will be supported by an experienced network of order-taking satellites.
That wasn't the original plan, but it was an easy and sensible upgrade. And it is precisely what other carmakers are trying to achieve by pruning networks overgrown with fully-franchised dealers. MCC gets at it from the other direction - building a sales channel from scratch, adding what's needed on a just-in-time basis.
But Smart is also pointing the way to the future. In Italy, a Smart can be purchased at 1,200 branches of Banca di Roma, one of the country's biggest banks. It is also being offered through the Internet. MCC is breaking tradition so much that competitors worry it might give ammunition to Brussels bureaucrats campaigning for the end of block exemption.
Neither has Hambach's innovative development and production process been trouble-free. Both the carmaker and its suppliers underestimated the difficulty. DaimlerChrysler learned that it must assess earlier whether suppliers can master complex modules and systems. Suppliers discovered their limitations.
But with only 10 big system partners and 30 additional direct suppliers, MCC has proved that a large proportion of a vehicle can be developed and manufactured by supplier partners.
If Smart survives - and its chances appear better than ever - it will be another demonstration of Jurgen Hubbert's resilience. The Mercedes-Benz passenger-car chief has fixed the A-class and now the Smart. Both threatened to be his downfall.
Most think the new S-class will be Hubbert's legacy. But the little cars may prove to be his greatest achievements.