The all-new electric Fiat 500 is a properly committed effort by Italy’s small-car specialist. Though it riffs off the familiar 500 shape, it’s bigger on the outside, better on the inside, and of course totally differently powered.
It’s an all-new platform. Fiat’s CEO Olivier Francois says it will be used in other cars, most notably giving super-heavy clues a cheaper EV, with echoes of last year’s Centoventi concept.
“I’m still very bullish about the Centoventi approach. It’s an electric car that doesn’t cost much and is still profitable. It has modular batteries and so on. A minimalist, Panda inspired car. It makes a business over the lifecycle. That concept wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
“The new 500 is not a Plan B, not a tweaked current car. Obviously you don’t do that for only one car. We make the most of the investment, sharing with our other models and brands.”
So he envisages both the 500, which will make profit by being well-equipped and expensive, and the Centoventi as a cheaper option with a smaller standard battery and less kit.
For the 500, the critical figures are a 42kWh battery, enabling 199 miles’ WLTP range. It goes from 0-62 in 9.0 seconds.
Yeah, new cars always get their bosses excited. Olivier Francois is seldom anything less than ebullient. But he goes into total overdrive when talking about the new 500. His conversations loop around and around, bouncing off the rev-limiter. Here’s one nugget that summarises his claims: “Either you go big or go home. Match the best competitor, or don’t do it. The new 500 is all electric and only electric. It is cutting edge in every detail. It’s going to be a huge hit. It’s forward looking. It has driver assistance that’s unique for this class. It’s incredible to drive. An urban Tesla.”
And then a sermon about Fiat’s calling. “We have a duty to be of service, to attract people to electric. This drives people to electric because it’s so desirable. It’s a social mission. We are committed to a higher purpose. Really.”
Of course other car makers have done electric cars. Top Gear asks why Fiat is launching one only now? After all, in the past the company’s management has said it doesn’t believe in making ‘compliance cars’ to meet CO2 regulations. It has always said every car must make a profit. Will this one?
“This is one of the rare occasions where you have business objectives meeting brand objectives. The brand objective is relevance – a little car that’s totally relevant. The business aspect is to embed the cost of electrification into an intangible – premiumness. It’s a safe business equation, if we can sell it at the price we have in mind [£29,000 for the top-end La Prima cabriolet]. We have proof, as more than a quarter of current 500s we sell are super-high-end versions.”
Of course the present 500, even after all 13 years, is still a mainstay for Fiat. “The electric 500 is not intended to replace one-for-one the 200,000 500s we sold last year. The existing 500 will go on as long as there is demand.” There won’t be a petrol version of the new 500. “It’s all electric and only electric.”