Smart, the baby brand that started life as a hip alternative to urban transport, grew up, perhaps too soon, and crashed. "We are no longer just about parking," boasted Hertmut Sinkwitz, its design chief back in February 2004 as the Forfour was about to be launched in Barcelona.

Who can blame Smart though? With what must have seemed like secure financial backing from parent company, DaimlerChrysler, the possibility of sharing Mitsubishi's compact car platform, as well as a cult following, the family grew to include the Roadster and Forfour, and the near-production of the Formore.

All that's been dropped, and the auto maker is now concentrating solely on the small two-seater Fortwo. It is this car, albeit with a few design modifications to comply with strict US emissions and safety regulations, which it aims to use to enter the American market in 2008.

It couldn't be better timing what with the rising price of petrol, and a degree of eco-consciousness across the pond, Smart may prove to be a real hit in Americas densely populated urban settings.

"Smart is about parking," insisted Sinkwitz at a recent design workshop at the hip Red Dot design museum in Essen, Germany. He added: "Perhaps we moved too fast. Product is one thing, the environment another."

Smart is not revealing much about the second-generation model at this stage, but confirmed the proportions will remain more or less the same.

The current length is at the minimum, the designer said. "Therefore the car can be stretched, but it cannot lose height," he added. "We pushed it down 50mm and it completely lost its exclusive look."

The new Fortwo will be 'greener' thanks mainly to small design modifications and weight reduction, and there will be changes to the bonnet to comply with pedestrian safety regulations.

The family will grow around the Fortwo, though plans for a hybrid, solar or electric powered vehicle are not confirmed mainly because of cost constraints.

"The customer isn't willing to pay extra for a Smart," said Sinkwitz, adding: "Our diesel after all is more green than many hybrids out there." Perhaps the company is thinking more logically.

Nargess Shahmanesh