EV Cars

That’s why the little Fiat 500e is a big litmus test for the US electric vehicle market

The 2024 Fiat 500e returns to the US in March to relaunch the brand, and this time Fiat is all about electric vehicles – and keeping the 500 series as a two-door icon.

As Fiat has said in various ways over the past few years, the 500e available in the US will stand on its own. There won’t be one Loss leader for the brandor Electric vehicle lease for $49 per month like its predecessor.

But when the Fiat 500e comes to market, it will be the lightest electric passenger vehicle in the U.S. market, the cheapest new electric vehicle in Canada and one of the most affordable electric vehicles in the U.S. — as well as one of the lowest-range electric vehicles.

Its 149-mile range will be a litmus test for Americans and how short-range urban electric vehicles will fit into the market following its introduction so many long-distance electric vehicles.

The 2024 Fiat 500e will launch in the US at a lower price than the starting price of the 2019 500e. In 2019, the 500e cost $34,505 including destination price. For 2024, the starting price is $34,095 – and over that period the average new car price has increased by almost $10,000.

How will Fiat recapture all the magic of the previous zippy 89-mile range 500e – including the enthusiasts it attracted and even its glowing reviews? Consumer Reports and at the same time fit into a completely different EV market, say in 2024? Green Car Reports caught up with Fiat North American CEO Aamir Ahmed last month and found there’s a lot more to it than that.

So Stellantis wants to make the Fiat 500e more of an American success this time and not just a Californian dream.

2013 Fiat 500e

2013 Fiat 500e

This time the 500e is less of a Californian electric vehicle

While Fiat has already announced that the upcoming 500e will be sold in all states, Ahmed emphasized that it doesn’t want to rely nearly as much on LA and San Francisco.

“The new vehicle is intended to be the best city car in the world, and it happens to be electric,” Ahmed said, with Fiat expecting strong markets for the 500e, particularly in the major metropolitan areas of Florida, New York and other Texas, in addition to California.

“But these will not be vehicles that you will only see in downtown and urban areas,” he added. “I think you’ll see these vehicles in the suburbs, in affluent areas, outside of cafes and malls, because it makes a lot of sense to drive this vehicle instead of a big, gas-guzzling SUV if you want to do something,” a short Coffee or grocery runs or just daily tasks.”

New Fiat 500e

New Fiat 500e

Commuting is the common thread

Expanding on the 500e’s suburban appeal, Ahmed says the 500e will also appeal to “a generation of people who want to add this vehicle to their collection, in the same way they own multiple watches or multiple handbags.”

And to narrow the 500e down to a single best use case for the US, Ahmed says it’s commuting.

“In the US, we know what the daily commute is, especially in the city, and if we have a city car with a big enough battery and the right amount of materials in that battery, we have a great equation.”

“And that’s not just one target group we’re targeting,” he explained, which is why Fiat will install a level 2 wallbox for those with a garage or driveway or a charging credit for others.

“I don’t expect all of these cars to be sold in the city,” he stressed. “I think a large portion of these vehicles will be sold to private individuals … who have the ability to have an L2 in their garage, charge it there and use it for their daily tasks.”

New Fiat 500e

New Fiat 500e

Networked route planning to alleviate range anxiety

This is a bespoke platform developed from the ground up for the Fiat 500. However, as part of Stellantis’ new naming strategy for the EV platform, it is called STLA City.

Ahmed pointed out that there are many synergies that the brand can exploit now that all of Stellantis’ other brands are also moving to electric vehicles – in terms of actual vehicle efficiency, in terms of charging infrastructure, but also in terms of ease of use and the timely access to chargers.

“If you look at the on-board navigation, for example, the technology has evolved a lot since the old vehicle,” said Ahmed, pointing to the model’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in Alexa functionality and standard on-board navigation.

“It’s now a connected navigation system, so you can find out where chargers are along the route and if they’re being used, so you can actually do route planning,” he said. “So technology will help change behavior so you feel less worried while driving.”

2024 Fiat 500e

2024 Fiat 500e

LFP batteries can contribute to the previously largely unnoticed sustainability of the 500e

Ahmed made it clear that it was being considered LFP battery technology– is widely seen as key to the affordability of small electric vehicles and is expected to be used in the future Next generation Chevy Bolt EV, for example. However, if a change were to occur, he said, it would not detract from the 500e’s efficiency and lightweight design, which it achieves with its current NMC (nickel-manganese-cobalt) cells.

“We don’t have to carry around a huge battery, which actually hurts efficiency, so we can actually get high mileage with less material,” he praised. “We’re really proud of that.”

Ahmed called LFP “a very interesting technology” and noted its potential role in a circular economy and sustainability. “It will hopefully be a step in our evolution as a brand as we can continue to improve this vehicle in product promotion over time. We are exploring absolutely every opportunity to bring greater efficiency, lower costs for the customer and better technology to our vehicle.”

Similarly, the 500e doesn’t rely on sustainability as the star of the show – even though it’s there as a supporting player.

“For example, if you look at the interior of the 500e Red, we use recycled ocean plastic as yarn for our seats,” Ahmed said. “We won’t necessarily paint the vehicle green because it’s a vehicle that people enjoy driving. But…we’re very proud to have a great vehicle that also happens to be sustainable.”

New Fiat 500e

New Fiat 500e

Are there plans for Fiat hybrids or plug-in hybrids?

Will Fiat follow other brands’ recent decisions? Plug-in hybrids and hybrids instead of electric vehicles?

Ahmed had a clear answer when it came to the US

“In the U.S., we see this as an all-electric lineup,” he said. “We have no current plans to deviate from this as we continue to push the 500X into the background.”

However, he stressed that the answer may be different for Fiat in other markets.

Fiat 500e at the Ample battery changing station

Fiat 500e at the Ample battery changing station

For Fiat, replacing the battery could make sense

In December, Fiat’s parent company Stellantis announced a pilot program that would equip 100 Fiat 500e vehicles with it modular battery changing technology from Ample in California, so the battery is fully charged in just five minutes. Ample’s newest battery swapping stations also take up less space than a compact urban gas station.

When this announcement was made, Fiat remained tight-lipped about the US plans. But Ahmed added more context about how the project might fit into American plans.

“I think the U.S. is still in the very early stages of electric vehicle adoption and we are looking at many different ways to approach the electric vehicle market,” Ahmed said.

On the one hand, he explained, the parent company is involved in efforts to improve the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (as a partner in Ionna charging networkand with an announcement Charging and energy business). On the other hand, it’s about elements like these that are more at the brand level – and about how to optimize charging and reach and reduce range anxiety.

“Without going into details, I would say that the relationship we have with Ample is not necessarily a region-specific opportunity,” he said. “We will be looking at this very carefully to understand whether it makes sense for our base in the United States and whether there is a way to bring this in.”

“From a technology perspective… it’s a pretty easy rollout if we want to go down that route, so we’re really excited to see how that would work in the US and we’ll be doing more research on that in the coming months,” he led out of.

Fiat Panda pick-up concept

Fiat Panda pick-up concept

More Fiat electric vehicles are coming, but the 500 remains small

Fiat is a large, global brand. This year it celebrates its 125th anniversary and has sold more than seven million 500 models.

This means some images need to be aligned. For the USA, Fiat and 500 are almost synonymous, while in Brazil the Fiat brand covers a complete range from cars to trucks.

“As we relaunch the brand and get the brand right, I think we’re making it very clear that we need to build on the icon of the 500 and not try to dilute the image,” Ahmed explained. “The 500 is known for being a small, two-door vehicle and we want to stay true to that and not water it down, as we have done a little in the past.”

The CEO explained that there will be no derivatives of the 500 that aren’t small, electric and two-door – a statement that, according to Green Car Reports, potentially leaves the door open for a high-performance Abarth version, or perhaps an electric convertible.

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