Readyspace seats, cargo box and iPad mounts: As part of smart Department E, Jens Ruh has turned the interior of the new smart fortwo and forfour into highly flexible storage space. In line with the engineer’s philosophy, the result far exceeds the sum of its parts.
It takes some luck to meet Jens Ruh. As part of his job, the team leader for interior coordination regularly commutes between his desk at the smart HQ in Böblingen, two plants, and several suppliers. A lot of the time, he might only find out over morning coffee that he is about to embark on a multi-day business trip. On location, he makes sure that a part developed by him meets all specifications, right down to the smallest detail. After all, every millimeter counts in compact dimensions.
smart magazine: Mr. Ruh, “Department E“ sounds fairly mysterious. What is behind this moniker?
Jens Ruh: At Department E, we do everything that isn’t part of the shell, i. e. all exterior fittings like wing mirrors, glazing, and windshield wipers as well as my own field of responsibility, the interior elements. The latter include visible parts like seats, cockpit, levers, instruments, and gear selector as well as the invisible steering devices.
smart magazine: How do you start working on an entirely new model?
Ruh: First of all, marketing supplies us with the necessary framework and conditions, followed by input from each department. This, naturally, involves close collaboration with the other departments – and now even another brand, Renault. Once the smart designers have created the overall look and visual language, the technology side of things tries to realize these ideas. In some cases, like the passenger airbag, it is the other way around, though: Before the designers come up with a stylish cockpit that might prove too small, for example, we provide them with the exact dimensions of the airbag they need to “stow away.”
smart magazine: Speaking of stowage: Do you have a specific trick for getting a maximum of space out of minimal dimensions?
Ruh: There is no trick behind the feel of freedom and openness enjoyed by smart drivers. But there is a small secret: Thanks to the model’s two-seat concept, the smart fortwo immediately conjures up a fairly opulent sense of space. A sensation underscored by a cockpit design that offers more passenger space than comparable cars. This sleight of hand, too, underscores the “roominess” of the new smart.
smart magazine: Nevertheless, in cars with minimal fittings drivers often struggle to find a space for all the stuff in their pockets?
Ruh: At smart, that’s no longer the case: We have defined an interior “shopping basket” designed to serve as a spontaneous storage tray for the average driver’s everyday items: keys, cell phones, glasses, wallet, candy, etc. Compartments like the new drawers in the footwell near the center console offer ample storage space.
smart magazine: Did you also design such a shopping basket for the luggage compartment of the smart forfour?
Ruh: Naturally, the cargo compartment faces different challenges. It took us especially long to get the individual, foldable “readyspace” seats just right. Their reversible cushions can be lowered to gain an additional ten centimeters, allowing smart drivers to transport buggies, bikes, 45-inch monitors or even a flat-packed Billy shelf. That’s never been possible before.
Jens Ruh’s phone on the second floor of Building 3 does not stop ringing, since constant communication is key for a successful smart Renault cooperation. To prepare for his new colleagues, Ruh has decorated his desk with a golden miniature version of the Eiffel Tower. It shines and sparkles – even if things should get a little bumpy between France and Germany.
smart magazine: Just how creative can you be as a engineer at smart?
Ruh: It’s not a question of can – you actually have to think creatively! We enjoy a lot of freedom at smart. Take the question of the empty space between the readyspace seats: We filled it with a removable cargo box for additional storage. A pretty cool way to make the most of the space, I think!
smart magazine: How often do you dream of huge vans with luxurious dimensions?
Ruh: To be honest – not very often. The inherent luxury of the smart is its limited space. It is what makes the car so incredibly flexible in the city. Since I am completely convinced by this holistic concept, I don’t find it hard to come up with good solutions within our given compact dimensions. Before we had our kids, my wife and me drove a string of six smart, including the coupe, convertible and roadster models.
smart magazine: And which one was your own personal favorite?
Ruh: Definitely the roadster. If I, as a huge fan of local emission-free driving, had a wish, it would be a smart roadster electric drive model.
All the pictures, incl. the header image: smart magazine