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The Affordable New Smart Brand Electric Crossover Designed by Mercedes-Benz Officially Launches in China

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【Summary】The Smart brand, once was synonymous with the ultra-compact and low-priced Smart Fortwo, is getting a new life as an electric auto brand in China. The Smart brand is now a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd (“Geely”) named Smart Automobile Co., Ltd. The company officially launched its new electric SUV in China on June 6 dubbed the “Smart #1”.

FutureCar Staff    Jun 09, 2022 1:00 PM PT
The Affordable New Smart Brand Electric Crossover Designed by Mercedes-Benz Officially Launches in China
The Smart Concept #1 on display at the International Motor Show Germany in Sept 2021. (Photo: Alexander Migl)

The Smart brand, which once was synonymous with the ultra-compact and low-priced Smart Fortwo, is getting a new life as an electric auto brand in China. The Smart brand is now owned and operated as a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd ("Geely") named Smart Automobile Co., Ltd.

Smart officially launched its new electric SUV in China on June 6 dubbed the "Smart #1", which will be sold in the China market and exported globally. The official launch this week was reported by CarNewsChina.com. 

The sub-compact crossover was developed by Geely and Mercedes-Benz under the codename "HX11" and is the first Smart model to be launched since the two automakers took over the Smart brand in 2019. It's also the largest model ever offered by Smart following the 2-passenger Smart Fortwo city car first launched in 1998. 

The new electric SUV is based on the Smart Concept #1, which was showcased at the 2021 International Motor Show Germany (IAA) in September of last year. 

The production version was first unveiled in April. 

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The production version of the Smart #1 electric crossover.

Smart brand vehicles used to be sold in the U.S., but the brand exited the North American market. But the new joint venture will produce Smart-brand cars in China to be marketed globally. The joint venture company is headquartered in Ningbo.

The new Smart-branded model, a pure electric compact crossover, was designed by Mercedes Benz. It's based on Geely's Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) electric vehicle platform. It comes in a rear-wheel-drive configuration. 

The SEA architecture will also underpin cars from Geely-owned Volvo Cars and Lynk & CO.

"We have taken the opportunity to reinvent the brand," said Daimler design chief Gorden Wagener during a presentation to journalists in 2021 when the concept was unveiled. "The new Smart will be cool, sexy and grown-up instead of cute and playful."

The SUV is equipped with a rear electric motor with a maximum output of 200kW, which gives the SUV a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.7 seconds. The motor is driven by a 66kWh ternary lithium battery pack with a respectable CLTC driving range of 332 to 348 miles, depending on the model.

Charging the battery to 80% takes 7.5 hours using a standard level 1 charger and about 30 minutes with the 150kW DC fast charging mode. 

The automaker announced that the affordable electric SUV would have a price range of just 190,000-230,000 Yuan ($28,496-34,496) after subsidies.

The Smart #1 SUV adopts a new design language for the company, with styling cues reminiscent of concept vehicles. Although the SUV is tiny, the front grille includes a daytime running light strip which connects with the headlights to form an "X" shape that enhances the car's visual width.

Other exterior features include frameless doors with hidden door handles, which help lower its drag coefficient to increase range. Other exterior design elements include a two-tone paint, a floating roof and taillights that mirror the front light bar of the vehicle.

The simple cabin of the Smart #1 boasts a retro-style steering wheel and LED interior ambient lighting offering a choice of 64-colors with adjustable brightness. Like most new EVs, The Smart #1 includes a 9.2-inch thin LCD instrument cluster, a head-up display (HUD) for the driver, and a floating 12.8-inch center-mounted touchscreen display in the middle of the dash. 

The screen is linked to what Smart calls a "smart universe," which is an intelligent human-computer assistant, in which most of the in-car functions can be controlled using only voice commands.

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The dashboard of the Smart #1. (Photo: CarNewsChina.com)

The budget friendly Smart #1 does not offer autonomous driving functions, but it does come with a suite of safety features. The tiny SUV comes with advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) that includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring system, traffic jam assist, and intelligent parking assist, among other safety features.

The Smart #1 seats five, although that depends on the size of the occupants since its dimensions are so small. It's equipped with foldable rear seats that support a 13cm front and rear sliding range and a 4/6 ratio recline. 

For cargo space, the trunk can contain up to 323 cubic liters of storage, which expands to 986 liters when the rear seats are folded flat. The front trunk, or "frunk", offers an additional 15 liters of storage space.

Affordability is one of the barriers to widespread EV adoption, so the Smart #1 is a good choice for budget-minded EV shoppers in China, which is the world's biggest auto market.

It's one of the reasons that U.S. automaker General Motors slashed $6,000 from the price of the Chevy Bolt EV and EUVs and by as much as 18% for the lowest-price models just over a week ago. The Bolt EV now starts at $26,595, down from $32,495. The Bolt EUV will start at $28,195 down from $35,695.

"This change reflects our ongoing desire to make sure Bolt EV/EUV are competitive in the marketplace," GM said in a statement, adding "affordability has always been a priority for these vehicles."

Geely and Mercedes-Benz each invested 2.7 billion yuan ($388.7 million) in the joint venture in 2019 with the goal of building "premium and intelligent electrified" vehicles under the Smart brand. 

China's Geely is also the parent company of Swedish automaker Volvo Cars and also holds a 9.7 percent equity stake in Mercedes-Benz.

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