smart fortwo ED
Making the world's smallest production car into an electric vehicle seems to make a lot of sense. Right now, true electric cars are pretty thin on the ground, although the near future is thick with promises as nearly all the major manufacturers set out their zero emission strategies. DaimlerChrysler like to think they were there first.
Indeed, when the idea of an ultra compact city car was first mooted, initially in partnership with upstart Swiss watch-makers Swatch, hybrid power was very definitely on the cards. In the event, the Mk1 smart car arrived without a battery option, let alone a hybrid drive. For a start, the technology wasn't nearly advanced enough – back in late 90s the only things able to run on all electric power were golf carts, milk floats and the occasional delivery truck.
See more of smart's brand new fortwo ED
The new fortwo ED (electric drive) represents the fulfilment of a long-held promise. Electric smarts have been prowling London's streets since 2007, when the first generation smart EV (electric vehicle) was leased out to interested parties. This was superseded by the smart fortwo ED, with a range expanded to just over 70 miles. We spent an afternoon propelling the sparky little city car around the capital to assess its potential. The standard smart car is an ultra-simple driving experience, if not an especially thrilling one.
Adding an electric motor doesn't dampen the little car's urban zip (although it's certainly not up to highway speeds) and the ultra-simple nature of the electric transmission - it's either on, off or in reverse - means you can concentrate on the view ahead. While the stubby wheelbase makes the smart utterly slottable into the smallest of parking spaces, it doesn't help the ride quality one bit. Throw in a hefty load of batteries and every speed bump is an endurance test as the chassis slams itself down with a most indiscrete bump
Just as MINI are using the lease-only 'E' model to gauge market reaction to pure electric drive, so the first generation EV was essentially a testbed, loaned out to organisations interested in slashing their transport emissions. However, smart hope to beat their competitors to the plug socket with the recent announcement that series production of the ED starts in November 2009, replete with all-new, faster-charging lithium ion battery packs. Built in Hambach, France, the cars will be lease-only until 2012, after which the carmaker promises to open the order to books to all interested parties. For now, your best way into one of the most sorted electric cars on the market is to head for Berlin, where the EV will head up the city's 'e-mobility Berlin', a suite of roadside charging stops that is intended to be the first step to a zero-emission city centre.