Here’s why the tiny Fiat 500e is a big litmus test for the US EV market

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The 2024 Fiat 500e returns to the U.S. in March to relaunch the brand, and this time Fiat is all about EVs—and keeping the 500 lineup as a two-door icon. 

As Fiat has already said in various ways over the past couple years, the U.S.-bound 500e will stand on its own. It won’t be a loss-leader for the brand, or $49-a-month EV lease deal like its predecessor. 

But when the Fiat 500e arrives, it will be the lightest U.S.-market electric passenger vehicle, the cheapest new EV in Canada, and one of the lowest-priced EVs for the U.S.—as well as one of the lowest-range EVs. 

Its 149-mile range will be a litmus test for Americans and how short-range urban EVs fit into the market after the arrival of so many long-range EVs

The 2024 Fiat 500e will start in the U.S. at a lower price than the entry price of the 2019 500e. In 2019, the 500e started at $34,505, including destination. For 2024, its starting price is $34,095—and during that time the average new vehicle price has risen by nearly $10,000. 

How will Fiat rekindle all the magic of the previous perky, 89-mile-range 500e—including the enthusiasts it attracted, and even its beaming reviews from Consumer Reports while fitting into a very different EV market, circa 2024? Green Car Reports caught up with Fiat North American CEO Aamir Ahmed last month and found out there’s a lot more to it. 

Here’s how Stellantis intends to make the Fiat 500e more of an American success this time around, not just some California dreaming.

2013 Fiat 500e

 

500e is less of a California EV this time

While Fiat has already said that this upcoming 500e will sell in all states, Ahmed underscored that it’s not planning to lean on L.A. and San Francisco nearly as much.

“The new vehicle is designed to be the best city car in the world, and it just so happens to be electric,” Ahmed said, with Fiat expecting strong markets for the 500e especially around major-metro areas in Florida, New York, and Texas, in addition to California.  

“But these are not going to be vehicles you’re only going to see in a downtown, urban area,” he added. “I think you’re gonna see these vehicles in the suburbs, in affluent areas, outside of coffee shops and malls, because it makes a ton of sense to drive this vehicle instead of a big, gas-guzzling SUV when you want to make a quick coffee run or grocery store run or just, you know, daily chores.”

New Fiat 500e

New Fiat 500e

Commuting is the common thread

Expanding on the 500e’s suburban shine, Ahmed says that the 500e is also going to appeal to “a genre of individuals that want to add this vehicle to their collection, just like they own multiple watches or multiple purses.”

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

“In the U.S. we know what the daily commute is, especially in a city, and if we have a city car with an adequate and right-sized battery, using the right amount of materials in that battery, we’ve got a great equation.”

“And this isn’t just one demographic that we’re going after,” he explained, which is why Fiat will include 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 underscored. “I think there’s a massive portion of these vehicles that will be sold to individuals…who have the ability to have an L2 in their garage and will charge it there and use it for those daily tasks.”

New Fiat 500e

New Fiat 500e

Connected route planning to ease range anxiety

This is a bespoke platform that was designed ground-up for the Fiat 500. But in the scope of Stellantis’ new EV-platform naming strategy, it’s called STLA City. 

Ahmed noted that there are a lot of synergies that the brand can leverage now that all the other brands of Stellantis are also shifting toward EVs—on actual vehicle efficiency, regarding charging infrastructure, and also in usability and getting to chargers at the right time. 

“When you look at the onboard nav, for instance, the technology has come a long way since the old vehicle,” Ahmed said, pointing to the model’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Alexa built-in, and the standard onboard navigation. 

“It’s a connected nav system now, so you can find where chargers are along the route, and if they’re being utilized, so you can actually route-plan,” he said. “So the technology is going to help change the behavior so that you’re not as concerned when you do go for a drive.”

2024 Fiat 500e

2024 Fiat 500e

LFP batteries may add to 500e’s under-the-radar sustainability

Ahmed made clear that it’s considering LFP battery tech—broadly seen as a key to affordability in small EVs, and set to be used in the next-generation Chevy Bolt EV, for instance. But if there were to be a switch, he said it wouldn’t get in the way of the 500e’s efficiency and lightweight status it achieves with its current NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) cells. 

“We don’t need to lug around a massive battery, which actually hurts efficiency, so we’re actually able to accumulate high mileage with smaller materials,” he touted. “We’re really proud of that.”

Ahmed called LFP “a very interesting technology,” and noted its potential role in a circular economy and with sustainability. “It’s going to be hopefully a step of our evolution as a brand, as we can continue to enhance this vehicle in product action over time. We’re absolutely exploring all avenues to get more efficiency, lower cost for the customer and better technology into our vehicle.”

In much the same way, the 500e doesn’t go for sustainability as the star of the show—although it’s there as a supporting cast member. 

“If you look at the interior of the 500e Red, for instance, we’re using recycled ocean plastic as the yarn in our seats,” Ahmed said. “We’re not necessarily going to greenwash the vehicle, because it’s a vehicle that you’re going to love driving. But…we’re very proud of having a great vehicle that happens to be sustainable.”

New Fiat 500e

New Fiat 500e

Any plans for Fiat hybrids or plug-in hybrids?

Will Fiat follow any other brands’ recent decisions to embrace plug-in hybrids and hybrids in lieu of EVs?

Ahmed had a clear answer as it applies to the U.S.

“In the U.S. we look at this to be an all-electric lineup,” he said. “We don’t have any current plans to deviate from that, as we continue to sundown the 500X.”

But he highlighted that the answer will be potentially different for Fiat in other markets. 

Fiat 500e at Ample battery swapping station

Fiat 500e at Ample battery swapping station

Battery swapping might fit in for Fiat

In December Fiat’s parent Stellantis announced a pilot program in which 100 Fiat 500e vehicles would be fitted with modular battery-swapping tech from California’s Ample, allowing a fully charged battery in just five minutes. Ample’s newest battery-swapping stations also fit into less space than a compact urban gas station.

When that announcement was made, Fiat was mum about U.S. plans. But Ahmed added more context to how the project might fit in for American plans. 

“I think the U.S. is still very early in its EV adoption stage and we’re studying a lot of different ways to tackle the EV market,” said Ahmed.

On one hand, he explained, the parent company is involved in efforts to improve EV charging infrastructure (as a partner in Ionna charging network, and with an announced Charging & Energy business). On the other hand, it’s looking at elements like this that are more brand-level—and how to optimize charging and range and lessen range anxiety.

“Without getting into details I would say that the relationship we have with Ample is not necessarily a regional-specific opportunity,” he said. “It’s something that we will take a very close look at to understand if it makes sense for our base in the United States, and if there’s an opportunity to bring that in.

“From a technological sense…it’s a pretty easy adoption if we wanted to go down that path, so we’re really eager to see how that would work in the U.S. and we’ll do some more research on that in the coming months,” he elaborated. 

Fiat Panda Pick-Up concept

Fiat Panda Pick-Up concept

Other Fiat EVs coming, but the 500 stays small

Fiat is a big, global brand. It’s celebrating 125 years this year, and it has sold more than seven million 500 models. 

That said, it has some images to align. For the U.S., Fiat and 500 are almost synonymous, whereas in Brazil, the Fiat brand covers a full-range lineup from passenger cars to trucks.

“As we reintroduce the brand and do the brand right, I think we’re being very clear that we need to build on how iconic the 500 is and not try to dilute the image,” Ahmed explained. “The 500 is known for being a small-package, two-door vehicle, and we want to stay true to that, not dilute it kind of how we did a little bit in the past.”

The CEO explained that there won’t be any derivatives of the 500 that aren’t small, electric, and two-door—a declaration that Green Car Reports notes might just leave the door open for a performance Abarth version, or perhaps an electric convertible. 

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