I finally had the chance to see the new Smart forfour in the metal - and my, it's a bland, ungainly thing.
Lest we forget, the original Smart car, retroactively named the "fortwo", was a design that embraced its tradeoffs and compromises.
Designs that have the courage of their convictions are the ones that stand the test of time. Compare the original Fiat Multipla with the bland face lifted version that replaced it.
Original: definitely challenging, but the designers were trying to do something new and different, and the aspect of the car reflected this. Three-plus-three seating is still unique today, and on top of that, the car still fits in a "traditional car" footprint. No wonder these were instantly popular as taxis - one more seat in a car with almost the same exterior dimensions!
The updated version toned down all the quirks, becoming so instantly forgettable that I'm surprised owners didn't forget they owned a car. I imagine queues of confused Multipla owners back at the Fiat dealership: "I could have sworn I owned a car, but I can't for the life of me remember what it looked like!".
People defend courageous designs; the original Multipla and the first Smart have their partisans, but nobody will stand up for their unworthy descendants. If you're going to do something, do it all the way. By trying to please everybody, you guarantee that you will excite nobody. And once you cede that high ground, it's a race to the bottom on price, and there will always be someone hungrier and more desperate.
Instead, define what you stand for, and stand behind that definition with everything you do. This is how you gain and keep customers, by doing something that you and your customers care about. If your design shows that you don't care, guess what? Your customers won't care either, and next time they'll buy a Hyundai or some other interchangeable "appliance" car.