One of the premières mondiales of this year’s Paris Motor Show is today’s unveiling of the Smart Forease all-electric concept car. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Smart brand, this concept is intended to convey a more fun and whimsical design for electric urban mobility, but I find it comes across as cutesy rather than cute.
Before arriving at the Forease, I checked out Smart’s existing EQ Fortwo coupe, which has that characteristically boxy Smart car shape, a basic interior, and a price that dips as low as $15,000 in places like California where electric vehicle subsidies incentivize its purchase. The Fortwo is, in a lot of ways, the most likely future of electric mobility that the majority of us will experience. It’s utilitarian, but it has a sportier convertible option too. The Forease, on the other hand, comes without a roof. No roof at all.
This is where I had to hand it off to Daimler (parent company of Smart) chief designer Gorden Wagener for an explanation: “The smart forease is proof that smart thinks unconventionally. Its design is reduced and pure. The smart forease is a statement of urbanity and individual style. It has the coolness of the metropolis and demonstrates a truly free spirit.”
Feels like it was designed for — but not by — young people
Smart touts its motto as “reduce to the max,” which, I trust, is also why the company opts to decapitalize the names of its products. But, seriously, a roof is one of those car features that really didn’t need to be rethought out of existence. I feel less, not more, free when my vehicle provides no shelter from rain, sleet, snow, wind, or the excesses of a very sunny day. And unless Daimler / Mercedes / Smart’s conception of the future city is one where we’d have no weather, the Forease just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The absentee roof is matched by a shortened windshield and some eye-catching “stream green” color accents that make the Forease hard to miss. With the fanciful headlight and taillight shapes, this car feels like it’s working very hard to be fun. It also feels like a car designed for but not by young people. When I asked Smart about the purpose behind the headlights styling, I was told it was simply for the sake of a distinctive look.
Looking at the starkly white exterior with contrasting black sections, you might be reminded of the Honda Urban EV Concept from a few months ago, which I celebrated as an adorable example of a simplified, streamlined car design that still has tons of character. Why am I not saying similar things about the Smart Forease? Well, for one thing, Honda’s design is a throwback to cars from many decades ago, and it has a fun interplay of familiarity and novelty. It mixes bench seats with ultra-wide digital displays. It really does feel like a minimalist vehicle, whereas this Smart concept has all sorts of swellings and protrusions on its body that are supposed to distinguish it from the underlying base of the Fortwo cabrio. The Honda also happens to have a roof.
Concept cars are supposed to encourage conversation, and I think Smart’s Forease certainly fits that bill. I’m also encouraged to hear that Smart will discontinue its last combustion-engine models by the middle of next year — it’s already stopped selling them in the US — so the future for this brand is going to be entirely electric very soon. Smart is doing a lot of good things to advance the state of the affordable electric car market. And that’s really all we need from it. The inherent appeal of electric vehicles is growing by the day, and all Smart needs to do is make ones that we can all buy.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge