The Smart car came with a powerful engine as well and introduced a semi automatic gearbox. In addition, it had convertible models and even one where the entire top could be removed, including the whole windshield. Many companies saw the potential of using the Smart car as an advertising tool and often turned the car into a driving billboard on which company logos and ads were displayed. This became a popular way of creating publicity, to the point that some businesses gave the car away for free in exchange for having their names painted on the doors. A win-win situation: a driver receives a free ride and a business owner has a drivable commercial reaching potential customers wherever that driver goes.
The arrival of the Smart car alerted many companies and opened a new market segment. However, although space considerations are a tremendous need in Italy, no other auto factory really imitated the Smart car. Instead, something else happened with the support of the government. Italy passed a new law allowing mopeds to have four wheels; this initiated a new law to be able to build mini cars on moped engines. The government also allowed 16-year-olds to drive these new vehicles and this created a brand new market, since in Italy drivers licenses for regular cars are issued only to 18-year-olds and older. Teenagers, the elderly, and just regular people opted to buy these moped-like mini cars because they consume less gas, they have less maintenance costs and they are allowed inside no-traffic zones, like in the downtown areas. Besides, they can be parked on the motorbike spots, not a bad deal at all. Clearly their power is less than a regular car and not practical to take on long trips, but the city advantages are endless.
Unfortunately, many teenagers took advantage of the system, illegally fixing the engines and boosting the power. This led to tragic accidents where kids often lost their lives. The structure of these cars is not made to handle fast speeds or to resist an impact to a third object at the high speeds the boosted engines could attain. The government tried to find a way to control tampering with the engines and was partially successful, but sadly there are still idiots who risk their lives and the lives of others just to gain some speed. This created huge controversy, but the mini cars are now a solid business with many consumers considering them a necessity so all the government can do is try to regulate the market and implement stricter rules. Either way, the cars are here to stay.
Going back to the Smart car specifically, it was finally introduced to America and they are not uncommonly seen on the freeways in Los Angeles or in the streets of New York City. While many in America may consider the Smart car a toy, or otherwise not essential considering the size and wealth of the country, the trend continues. Perhaps it will catch on.