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How Daimler Smart could have made billions (2)

Jun 25, 2015

The magic word is reinvent! No better example than Apple's reinvention of the good ol' phone. Its design and functionality turned out to be such a hit, that usage and ownership of the Apple iPhone was taken to a whole new level. Why not do the same to that four-wheeled box that has been around for more than a century?

Click *Previous* (scroll down), to read Part 1.

Time to think out of the (car) box 
What's even worse, 'city cars' by other brands, such as the VW Up, Toyota Aygo and Hyundai i10, repeatedly tested superior in direct comparisons. You might say that despite Smart's loyal following and steadily growing clientele through its Car2Go program, Daimler still has not succeeded in bringing a city car that yields the benefits people expect when they downsize their mode of transportation. Both Smart cars aren't exactly economical, practical, comfortable, nor eventful to drive. No wonder that, despite the small car segment being on the rise, Smart's market share has shown a steady decline, from 0.84% in 2004 to approx. 0.50% in 2014/2015. Time to think out of the (car) box. Literally. The established car brands have long been shielded from outside competition and influences. No longer. In my opinion, any global brand or alliance may step up to the plate of marketing and selling new-generation 'personal transportation modes' as I prefer to call them. Perhaps even develop. Particularly since EVs are like big electric appliances. Could be an electronics producer like Panasonic that's co-investing in Tesla's mega battery factory, a rental agency, a global retailer, an energy company, or a Silicon Valley-type visionary.

Google pod... still a car 
The established car brands don't have to worry right away. Could be quite interesting actually. It might mean that they can become facilitators, providers, partners too, next to their traditional role as engineers, developers, makers and sellers of cars. To illustrate what I'm contemplating here, I use another schematic overview that brings together city cars, as epitomized by Smart, and the types of vehicles that are still insignificant in the industry but show incredible potential, provided they are 'properly formatted' engineering- and marketing-wise. I'm talking about motor scooters and three-wheelers.

Left corner below: the car industry, responsible for making driver- and owner-oriented cars for all sorts of purposes and distances. Primary business model: sell as many as possible. Nothing new there. Tesla differs only because of its focus on full-electric drive.

Top left corner: Daimler-Smart makes cars that are primarily meant to be used in around town. No car journalist considered ForTwo and ForFour suitable for long distance travel. Because of the dramatic sales in the past, Daimler decided to set up its car-sharing program Car2Go. All of a sudden Google isn't as futuristic as suggested in my previous blog, since it hovers somewhere in between with its driverless two-seater pods, meant to be shared, as opposed to the auto industry's business model based on car ownership. One can imagine that on the long run Google will feature cars that can cover greater distances in self-driving mode. Nonetheless, still a car for the time being; nothing fancy there; you might say another Smart ForTwo.

Top right corner: the Toyota i-Road is probably the most important new development since the hybrid Prius (also by Toyota). It's a highly maneuverable, enclosed three-wheeled scooter, meant to be used in and around town. It tilts during cornering. Cramped seating for two though. No doubt people will feel unsafe in it outside the city (top speed 45 km/h). But it sets the tone when it comes to next-gen urban vehicles. That the world's Nr. 1 car maker is investing in i-Road, is remarkable.

Right corner below: New iSetta (or 'Smart ForThree')
iPhone made Apple the richest company in the world. Imagine what a sleek 'iPhone on Wheels' may set in motion. Right corner below in the schematic overview above: true to Steve Jobs' motto - "design is not just what it looks like, design is how it works" - the pod-shaped New iSetta is lightweight, sleek and rigid to yield the sort of energy efficiency, passenger safety and ride comfort (long wheelbase!) that cars of the same length simply cannot provide. More fun to drive also, due to its ability to tilt (bank) during cornering. Better able to operate in dense city traffic and more suited to self-driving (!) than the Google pod, thanks to its narrow profile and brilliant outside view. Think of it as a car-like enclosed motor scooter with the side-car seating position fully integrated.

Making 'New iSetta' (Smart ForThree?) tilt forms its foremost engineering challenge. Any vehicle with this sort of wheelbase : front track ratio will have to bank during cornering to keep it from rolling over or side-sweeping the rear. China could surpass Germany and Italy as the largest market for Smart cars, says Smart CEO Annette Winkler. Think what this three-seater can do in this country known for its one-child family policy, cramped infrastructure and poor air quality in cities. Conventionally steered or driverless, it's the perfect vehicle for a TNC that wants to make its ride services less dependent on a driver in person. With its distinctive looks, it makes for an instantly recognizable auto-mobile in the crowd!

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