FRANKFURT - When safety scares hit sales of DaimlerChrysler's Smart at the start of 1999, rental company Avis stopped hiring out the two-seat city car.
It was the final disastrous episode in what threatened to become a nightmare launch period for D/C.
But now that safety problems have been fixed and Smart is rapidly becoming the most fashionable small car in Europe, Avis cannot get enough Smarts.
Avis' current European fleet of 4,500 Smarts will be expanded to a total of about 6,000 by the end of September.
But this is not enough.
Complaints from customers at Avis hire desks have increased, because the rental stations can't guarantee the availability of the Smart.
When customers are offered other, bigger cars for the same price, many customers complain.
'I specifically wanted a Smart because it is both politically correct and trendy,' a businessman at the Avis desk at Stuttgart airport said last week.
'I do not need a big, fuel-guzzling car for just driving into the city. The Smart is also much more convenient in terms of finding a parking space.'
The service assistant at the Avis counter at Stuttgart airport said: 'Yes, people like the Smart a lot. Requests specifically for this car have increased significantly. We receive many reservations for the Smart, but unfortunately we can't keep up with the demand. Often we have to hand out other cars instead.
'Quite a few Smart customers couldn't care less [about the advantages of a bigger car]. They just want to drive a Smart.'
This year more than 100,000 Smart cars will be sold, while orders for the forthcoming diesel versions of the City Coupe and the Smart Cabrio pile up.
A cooperation between Avis and Micro Compact Car, the D/C unit that builds Smart, secured Avis the exclusive rental contract for Smart vehicles.
The contract expires on June 30, 2001. Avis would like to renew the contract, but no decision has been made yet.