Nicolas Hayek saved the Swiss watch industry from low-priced Asian competition in the early 1980s by offering colorful, inexpensive timepieces that he hawked with equally colorful marketing.
The Swiss-Lebanese engineer and industrialist wanted to do the same thing with the automobile. So Hayek, who died last month at 82, brought the world the Smart car.
The first Smart cars were to have removable body films that would allow owners to change the color of their cars as easily as his other customers changed watchbands. Hayek also wanted Smart to have a fuel-efficient diesel-electric drivetrain.
The original specification for the Smart car was to be "big enough to hold two people and a case of beer," he told AutoWeek, a sister publication of Automotive News, before the Smart ForTwo went into production.
At the time Hayek was planning a collaboration between his engineering firm, SMH, and Volkswagen AG. The plan fell through, and he struck a deal with Mercedes-Benz. Hayek dropped out of that partnership, too, when Mercedes did not pursue his hybrid drivetrain concept.
Hayek said he needed to collaborate with a large carmaker to succeed. But in those deals he lost control of his vision. The result was a series of compromises necessary for safety, emissions and corporate ideas about marketing.
Mercedes launched the Smart in Europe in 1998 and in the United States 10 years later.