LOS ANGELES – While we're excited for the Fiat 500e's arrival in the U.S., and we think there's a clear niche for it, we still had loads of questions about what models were coming, if any changes would be made and what else might be coming for the Italian brand. And in a roundtable interview with Fiat Brand CEO Olivier François, we learned all that and more. So let's go over the fascinating electric future of Fiat in the U.S.
The Future is 500
And when we say that it's 500, we mean only 500e. François revealed that, although it's not going away immediately, the 500X crossover will be discontinued when this generation reaches the end of its lifecycle. His reasoning for this move is that only one model really struck a chord with American buyers: the regular 500. He pointed out that it had, at once point, 60% of the ultra-small segment ahead of Mini. And it was successful because it was an iconic car that met a very specific niche for a very specific buyer: something small and stylish that worked well as a commuter and city car. He noted that the 500L, with a focus on practicality, wasn't something that a mainstream buyer was looking for, nor that niche buyer. And it's a similar case for the 500X. So the brand is shifting back to its most popular, core model, and it has no plans in the near term to expand beyond that.
Exactly which 500e variants will be offered here is still being decided. There are three versions in Europe right now, the hatchback, soft-top and quirky three-door (with a half-door on the passenger side a la Mazda MX-30). They will be joined by a sporty Abarth version soon. François noted that they could start with one version and offer others later, or perhaps the hatch and convertible simultaneously. The three-door seems unlikely, as there isn't much demand for such a small car with a marginally easier-to-access rear seat. The Abarth is something François said he would like to offer here (and we would love to accept), but that will likely be determined by how well this new Fiat strategy works. He did say that any of them could be offered, but it depends on the brand's success and strategy. One interesting tidbit that could complicate the convertible is that the most successful states for the 500 were California and Florida, which are both states were convertibles don't do great. Larry Dominique, senior vice president and head of Fiat and Alfa Romeo in the U.S., noted that the majority of convertible buyers are actually in much snowier states.
Regardless of body style, the specs will apparently remain very similar to the European model. Small changes will be made for U.S. regulations such as standard safety features, lighting, tire specifications and such, but it will broadly be the same. It comes with a 42-kWh battery that's rated for 199 miles of range on the European WLTP cycle (expect less on the U.S. test loop). Under the hood is a 117-horsepower electric motor powering the front wheels. DC fast charging would be available for the car.
Fiat will be Stellantis' American EV test run
One of the surprising things François revealed was how small Fiat's footprint in the U.S. is. He said that annual sales peaked a bit over 40,000 units a year in the U.S., which is minuscule next to Fiat's global sales of more than a million units a year. Many automakers would probably just quit the market, but not Fiat. Apparently the plan is to use Fiat as a way to try out new ideas for selling cars and as a testbed for selling EVs in the U.S. Fiat will be the first Stellantis brand to start selling EVs, even before bigger nameplates like Jeep and Dodge.
Apparently the strategy is that, since Fiat is a small niche brand that's not a huge volume seller, it's not a terrible loss if things don't go super smoothly. As François said, if things go well, that's good to learn and apply to other brands. If they don't, then that's also good to learn, and it wasn't a huge mistake.
Among some of the new ideas being tossed around for Fiat are fully digital marketing and new ways to buy or use cars. Or at least, new-ish. Subscription models are certainly on the table, as are possible car-sharing models. François noted that a small chic city car would be a strong option for car sharing, particularly in urban areas, and it could represent a point for people to experience a 500e in a way that might lead them to buy one.
Urban centers are also where Fiat will focus on selling the 500e. François talked about how this is a car for two key types of buyers, both likely in large cities. One is the buyer that has multiple cars that all do different things, and the 500e would fit the efficient, stylish commuter. The other would be someone looking for something stylish but might be better suited to a subscription model or even car sharing. As he put it: people with large driveways or people without driveways at all. And of course, the somewhat shorter range of the 500e compared to other more practical options lends itself to city life.
One final question that was asked, but not answered, was pricing. A big part of that is simply that it hasn't been set, period. So there's nothing really to say. François did say that the car wouldn't be "cheap." We take that to mean that it won't be a bargain-basement kind of car. So it may be priced more like a Mini Cooper SE. He also noted that there would be no plans to offer big discounts on the car, no matter what. The reason, besides the fact that big discounts probably wouldn't help the image, is that Fiat 500e production is currently constrained. They're selling every example they can make in other markets, and with how small the U.S. market will be, Fiat won't have to worry about moving out inventory. Interestingly, this is also partly why the 500e hasn't come to the U.S. sooner. François said that it's been such a success that the brand had to prioritize getting examples to Europe.
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