The Fiat 500e perfectly captures the difference between the new car market in Europe and in America. On the Continent, the diminutive 500e has a range of 199 miles WLTP from a 37.3 kWh battery and has been a runaway sales success. It is the ideal size for negotiating densely packed European cities with streets that were originally designed for ox carts. In America, where 80% of new vehicles are either SUVs or light trucks, the business case for the 500e is much less compelling.
The original Fiat 500e went on sale in America back in 2011. Everyone knew it was just a compliance car designed to get around the zero emissions rules established by CARB in California. It wasn’t a very good car and Sergio Marcchione, the mercurial head of Fiat Chrysler at the time, begged people not to buy one because he said the company lost $20,000 on every 500e it sold. A few years ago, Stellantis withdrew the 500, 500L, and 500e from the North American market.
Speaking at the Los Angeles auto show this week, Fiat CEO Olivier Francois told the press the 500e will be reintroduced to America again in 2024. In fairly cryptic remarks, he said Stellantis plans to “explore alternative business models,” such as subscriptions and car sharing. “Maybe you will never have a price. Maybe it will just be usership. Maybe there will be a combination of both.” He did say, however, “There will be a healthy dose of digital, that’s for sure. We all collectively need to reinvent the business model.”
According to Car and Driver, the latest iteration of the 500e will be offered as a coupe and also as a soft top. It is expected to have an EPA range of 150 miles from the same 37.3 kWh battery used in the European cars, which sell for €22,000 after incentives.
Speaking with Gaby Coppola of Bloomberg Hyperdrive (email) in Los Angeles, Francois said Fiat is bringing the car back to the US as a sort of guinea pig — an experimental way to explore new business models, use cases, and forms of ownership. “The real return on investment of this project is learning, intel,” he said. “We have nothing to lose and everything to win.”
Coppola adds that the Fiat 500e would work well with Stellantis’ Free2Move, the car-sharing and subscription business it’s been operating since 2016. While other automakers have bailed on car-sharing as a money-losing endeavor, Stellantis has been uniquely bullish, claiming it’s cracked the code to operating profitably. Car sharing works best in dense urban centers, which is precisely where Francois plans to market the new 500e.
Separately, Francois told TechCrunch that re-introducing the 500e to North America is not about driving sales. In fact, the company is “capacity constrained” thanks to strong sales in Europe. Instead it is about figuring out the “future of mobility with a car that’s designed for the city.” Is America ready for city cars? What if you wake up in the middle of the night with an irresistible urge to shoot the curl at La Jolla or tour Alaska? What then, huh? 150 miles of range ain’t gonna cut it, is it?
Still, the average American drives less than 30 miles a day, which means for some people, a 500e would have enough range for nearly a week’s worth of driving. Maybe that subscription or car sharing model Francois spoke about would be just the ticket to get those folks behind the wheel of an electric Fiat.
The 500e will be no stripped out loss leader when it gets to America. It will come with an advanced driver assistance system that provides “Level 2+” features such as lane centering and adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, blind spot detection, and 360-degree parking sensors. It will also come with the Fiat’s UConnect 5 connected car system and a 10.25-inch touchscreen.
For certain drivers, the new Fiat 500e may be just what the doctor ordered — small, efficient, maneuverable, and inexpensive. It will be interesting to see how Fiat’s new market research experiment turns out when (and if) the new 500e arrives in America in 2024 as planned.
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