BERLIN -- Since its introduction two decades ago, the diminutive Smart has sat awkwardly alongside the imposing, autobahn-eating cars that have made Daimler AG the king of the road.
New Smart models with quirky designs came and went, as did managers trying their luck at yet another turnaround; strategies changed as often as the funky color palette. One constant through the years: the losses kept piling up.
Now Daimler is changing tack, again.
The German company is teaming up with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, its largest shareholder, forming a joint venture to transform Smart into an all-electric brand based in China, the world’s largest auto market. Daimler will build a factory in the country and start worldwide sales in 2022, switching from importing the car now made at a factory on the Franco-German border.
“This is arguably their last real chance to sort out Smart,” said Juergen Pieper, an analyst at Bankhaus Metzler in Frankfurt. “It’s understandable that Daimler didn’t just want to let the brand go after investing a lot of money over the years.”