Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

  • Fiat 500e
  • Fiat 500e

We began our Fiat 500e Los Angeles press-launch drive with 95 miles showing on our 500e's range gauge – interesting, since the car's EPA-rated range is 87 miles city/highway combined. Because the 500e's range-calculating algorithm looks at the last 100 miles, then the last 10 miles and the last five minutes, to account for recent change in energy usage, our 500e must have been hypermiled for some distance before we got into it to give us that starting point. Or the EPA's numbers are a bit conservative here.

"It handles like a heavy Fiat 500," observed my co-driver. "I like it."

We inserted ourselves into creepy-crawly LA morning traffic, then turned north up one of those twisty canyon roads where movie stars live. At the top, we headed west on the famous Mulholland Drive, and after a total of 11 miles, the last few uphill, we saw 47 miles of range remaining. Three miles further along curvy Mulholland, we were still showing 47 miles.

"It handles like a heavy Fiat 500," observed my co-driver from behind the wheel. "I like it." The 500e's heated and cooled 24-kWh battery pack is tightly packed under the floor to lower the car's center of gravity and minimize loss of cabin room. And we both agreed that the 500e was exceptionally quiet, even at wide-open-throttle.

Then, we turned downhill and started gaining range thanks to the regenerative brakes – 53 miles at 17 miles driven; 55 at 18.6 miles; 57 at 21.2. Then it was my turn to drive.

fiat 500e

At 28 total miles, zipping along at 70-plus mph on the CA 101 freeway, we saw 45 miles remaining. At 40.9 miles, twisting down Topanga Canyon Road toward Malibu, our range was back up to 52 miles. When we stopped for lunch on the famous Pacific Coast Hwy with 48.5 miles on the trip odometer, the range gauge said 48 miles to go.

I've driven a lot of electrics, and this very likeable 500e is one of the best.

Therefore, after nearly 50 miles of stop, go, up, down and around, including one stretch of freeway, we had burned 47 miles-worth of battery energy and had just as much remaining. Not bad at all. Kudos to the folks who planned our drive route, which ably demonstrated the 500e's smile-inducing character ... and efficiency. Major kudos also to the hard-working Chrysler engineers who made the little Fiat volt-burner – the company's first production EV – this good without outside help. I've driven a lot of electrics, and this very likeable 500e is one of the best.

As we know, Italian automaker Fiat – back in the States after a 27-year hiatus (and now owner/operator of resurgent US automaker Chrysler) – launched its US 500 minicar for 2012 and is following up with this surprisingly nice 2013 electric version. Available only in California at first, it boasts decent performance from its 111-hp electric motor and class-leading 87-mile EPA combined range, and it can be recharged in less than four hours with its Level 2 (240 volt) on-board charger – but there's no DC fast-charge availability yet.

The conventional gas 500's two endearing qualities, styling cuteness and fun-to-drive character, have been well preserved in this brilliantly-converted version. If anything, the eight aerodynamic drag-reducing changes (front fascia, front air dam, wheels, mirror caps, rear spoiler, rear fascia, underbody panels and side sills) the engineers made to its body enhance its looks while reducing its wind resistance by 13 percent, for an added three miles of range.

fiat 500e

And Chrysler marketers have done an equally impressive job of making the well-equipped 500e affordable. While its sticker is a hefty $32,500 (twice as high as the gas 500's base price), lessees who pony up $999 down can apply the federal $7,500 and California $2,500 tax credits, plus a $2,000 Fiat rebate, all up front to get their lease payment down to $199/month – the same as that base gas 500. With all those incentives, you could also buy a 500e for $20,500.

The 500e's 108 MPGe rating was touted as "unsurpassed by any electric vehicle on the US market" ... before the Chevy Spark EV's numbers announced

The 500e's 108 MPGe (gas mileage equivalent) highway rating was touted as "unsurpassed by any electric vehicle on the US market" ... before the similar-size Chevy Spark EV's EPA combined efficiency was announced as 119 MPGe (vs. the Fiat's 116 combined). And the Spark EV – also cute, and quicker at under eight seconds 0-60 vs. the 500e's nine-plus seconds – gets 82 miles of EPA range on a smaller, less expensive 21 kWh li-ion battery.

That's tough competition, and it will only get tougher. As Chrysler/Fiat folks point out, there will be some 18 electrically-powered vehicles competing for California's (ridiculously) mandated EV sales before long, so why should buyers choose theirs over all the others? That's where their engineers leave off and their marketers take over.

As of now, they say, three major barriers stand in the way of an EV ownership decision: 1) high price plus complexity of the purchase process, given all the available incentives; 2) concern over limited range, and range anxiety; and 3) today's limited charging infrastructure. So they have cleverly addressed all three, beginning with applying all available incentives up front to get the monthly lease payment down to that $199 level, or in some cases even lower.

fiat 500e

To optimize usage of the infrastructure, the 500e comes with standard (Tom Tom) navigation that shows charge stations and a circle around its location to indicate remaining range. And owners get a smartphone app (for iPhones and Androids only) that "enables real-time vehicle status, manages charging, tracks the driver's energy use, locates the vehicle and nearby charging stations, plans and sends routes ... and provides test-message alerts."

Then, when 500e owners/lessees need to drive beyond its battery range and/or carry more people and stuff than its tiny cabin can accommodate, Chrysler/Fiat has that handled with a 500e Pass program. Through an agreement with Enterprise Holdings – which owns Enterprise, Alamo and National rental car brands – they can get up to 12 days worth of credit each year for the first three years toward rentals of "alternate transportation" vehicles.

And every participating California Fiat "Studio" will have a special orange "hotline" phone that will be manned after business hours for 500e customers with questions or problems. What more can they can do to enable and ease 500e ownership? Not much.

Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne admits that his company is doing this only to comply with California's Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate, and will lose big (like $10K big) on every 500e it leases or sells. But he doesn't want to fall even one short of what it takes.


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  • 39 Comments
      Spiffster
      • 6 Months Ago
      Horrible efficiency?? 78 MPGe is not bad at all considering how big the RAV4 is. Infrastructure? In Denver its like "what infrastructure?" Either way I dont have time to waste at public chargers when I dont go further than maybe 50-80 miles in a day, max. Other than the occasional "free" charging station, I cant see why I would ever use them... why pay twice as much for juice and be stuck waiting at a public charge for what would just be "novelty" charging. For some that may be an issue, but for most reasonable folks, I think not.
      Marcopolo
      • 6 Months Ago
      I like the Fiat 500 e ! Of all the fad for retro classics, the Fiat 500 is easily the most successful. The electric version, is obviously a pretty cool little EV, with a ton of character ! IMHO, $20,000 (with all the credits applied) isn't much to pay for such a fun little vehicle ! However, it worries me that these vehicles are dependant upon the law's of the State of California for their existence. The creation of an artificial marketplace, due to government mandates seldom produces satisfactory results. But, as long as the voters in California support such policies, (and the US Federal Government doesn't intervene), the government of California is at liberty to regulate what seems best for California. The problem is California isn't the whole world ! Californian mandates place a cost burden on manufactures, who pass these cost on to all consumers, not just Californians. While EV technology is still relatively new, such programs, mandates and subsidies, may seem justified to help launch EV technology and encourage acceptance. As a general principle, governments have a duty to assist the success of socially beneficial technology and promote environmental public policy. However, California is exceeding these general principles. It's policies limit the choice for consumers, and promote on those technologies with certain ideological or philosophic basis. By removing consumers freedom to determine the technology of their choice, the government makes it difficult for citizens to determine the effectiveness of Government policies. In the short term, the Californian mandates may seem to assist the adoption of EV technology. However, in the long term these policies may prove harmful. Many of these vehicles will simply be dismissed as 'compliance' vehicles. Companies like Tesla will grow reliant on including credits as part of their business plans. But electors are fickle ! What happens to the EV industry if this artificial market ceases to exist ? Californian's, and for that matter, Americans, tend to think in terms of their own backyards ! In the rest of the world, EV's must make economic sense. The subsidies can't last forever. Creating artificial markets, does not encourage competitive efficiency. In the near future, EV's will have to start competing with improved conventional fuelled engines, with very low emissions, including CNG/LPG fuelled l vehicles, with emissions arguably as low as EV's, but with low fuel costs and much lower initial purchase prices. The electorate will start asking, " What percentage are we willing to pay for a few zero emission vehicles, as opposed to millions of very low emission vehicles ? " Which policy produced the greater environmental benefit ? Which policy has greater economic benefit? Why should the entire nation suffer, to satisfy the emission problems in California ? Then what will happen to an EV industry, grown dependant on California's mandates ?
        Dave
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Marcopolo
        "Of all the fad for retro classics, the Fiat 500 is easily the most successful." You think the 500 is more successful than the Mini and the New Beatle?
        Spec
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Marcopolo
        Well, the various incentive programs are not set in stone. They can be tinkered with. And I think a permanent subsidy at lower value than they are at now is quite justifiable on the grounds of reduced pollution, reduced CO2, reduced trade deficit, etc. A car that emits not local pollution, emits less pollution than a comparable gas car when powered by a fossil-fuel powered electric plant, can be powered with renewable energy, uses (virtually) no imported fuel, etc. is better for a society than gas car that pollutes and runs one 1/2 imported oil and thus deserves a small subsidy. But in the long run, EVs will need to get cheaper and/or gasoline will get more expensive in order to justify them. The current high level of subsidies is not sustainable.
      Ele Truk
      • 6 Months Ago
      Every time a story includes "concerns about limited range" and "range anxiety" they only help reinforce the non-issue. If you buy an EV as a commuter car, simply don't plan on using it as your occasionally "go to Grandma's house" car. Sure it may get less than a hundred miles on a charge, but so what? Average commute is less than 40 miles round trip. That's about half the typical range of just about any EV you can purchase these days. Range anxiety? Let it go, re-enforcing the belief there is such a thing is simply bad journalism.
        Spec
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Ele Truk
        Yeah, the article is kind of ridiculous . . . it spends 3 paragraphs obsessing over the number of miles driven and the number of miles left displayed on the dash. Get over it already. Most people buy cars to drive back & forth to work, go get groceries, go the movies, take the kids to school, etc. Yet so many car reviews review cars as if all people do is wake-up and the drive around in the wine country for scenery and then head on down to the beach. That is not real life.
        raktmn
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Ele Truk
        Besides, all they are really doing is testing the functionality of the range estimator software, not the actual range itself. All of my gas cars have "range until empty" software. But I can't remember any tests that wasted huge amounts of time and space reviewing the mile-by-mile accuracy of the same software. Nor have I ever owned a car that had highly accurate "range until empty" software.
      • 6 Months Ago
      I read this article and also one on topgear.com (http://www.topgear.com/uk/car-news/fiat-500e-first-drive-2013-04-22), then called the local FIAT dealership in San Jose. They did not know anything about a $2000(this article) or $2500(topgear) FIAT rebate. I think the authors need to get their facts straight. Those rebates are probably for other models(gas powered). i work ofr a company which is part of the Affiliate program and can get discount on all of the other models, but not the 500e. My first EV(Think City) was totaled by my insurance company for being rear-ended.
      raktmn
      • 6 Months Ago
      "Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne admits that his company is doing this only to comply with California's Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate, and will lose big (like $10K big) on every 500e it leases or sells. But he doesn't want to fall even one short of what it takes. " Each one of these cars they build earns them 3 ZEV credits. Each credit has a maximum penalty of $5,000 dollars. So each one they fail to build could cost them up to $15,000 dollars if they have to pay the max penalty instead of buying credits from someone else. If they sell one at a $10,000 dollar loss, they save themselves up to $15,000 in penalties, which actually saves Fiat $5,000 per car. So even if we take their claims at face value that they are selling them at up to a $10,000 dollar loss, and pretend that making more of them over time will never bring down their costs, they are still saving themselves up to $5,000 dollars for each one they sell. On the other hand, if they over-sell their quota, Fiat could end up making up to a $5,000 dollar profit on each car, if other car companies have to buy ZEV credits from Fiat. Even if Fiat fails to reduce their production costs, and they still sell them at a $10K loss. Either way, Fiat will be either saving or earning up to $5,000 per car, so of course they are going to sell as many as they can.
        Rotation
        • 6 Months Ago
        @raktmn
        No, they're no going to sell as many as they can. Credits have a variable value, losing $10K with a hope of making it back is not a great business model. Especially when Tesla has a lot of credits to sell, depressing the market. So the number they will sell probably won't greatly exceed the number of credits they need.
          Rotation
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Rotation
          Of course they can lost money by selling extras. The carbon credits are sold on a market system. If there are more credits than there is demand for then the credits are near worthless. I have no idea how you think they'll get to the benefits of mass production by selling more than a few thousand of these. You state that CARB will cut the credits, but again that is just a hope. Losing $10K with a hope of making it back is not a great business model. The ZEV market doesn't have to actually crash to make selling more of these not makes sense. The credits just have to go below $10K in value (per 3). That's not much of a crash. Tesla will have at least 10x as many credits to sell as Chrysler/FIAT does in all cases. Because Tesla makes 10x as many ZEVs and makes no non-ZEVs. So Tesla will control the market. It wouldn't be prudent for FIAT to think they can try to overproduce and sell credits in a market where someone else sets the market. The simplest fast is if Chrysler had any plans to make a lot of these cars they wouldn't be doing them as a conversion in the first place.
          raktmn
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Rotation
          If Fiat sells enough to meet 100% of their own ZEV mandate, and then continue to sell more on top of that, there is no way they will still be losing $10K per unit. If they sell past their mandate, they will already be reaping the benefits of mass production, and any claims of $10K losses at that level of sales will be utter BS. If the ZEV credit system starts to crash due to gross over-production at Tesla, CARB will increase the mandate, and openly mock all of the gas car companies who claimed that there was no market for ZEV credit cars. The ZEV credit system is always being tweaked to make it work, and California is never going to let it die just because Tesla shows up all the other gas car companies. At volume over their ZEV mandate, of course they will sell as many as they can. Unless of course they want to put making a political statement as a priority over profits.
          raktmn
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Rotation
          Here are the problems with your assumptions: 1) You assume this is just California. That is false. 14 other states have adopted California emissions, and ZEV credits also apply to these states too. At this time, these states together make up close to half the entire US car market. So your assumptions on numbers are wrong. 2) The ZEV credit requirements ramp up over time, and ZEV credits are bankable for future years. Even Tesla's rosiest plans for the Model S are not enough to satisfy all the ZEV credit mandate in the future. 3) Since you are wrong on the number of states you think this impacts, and the number of ZEV credits manufactures will need when the ramp-up is included, it isn't surprising that you are also wrong on your assumption of how many 500e's Fiat will need to sell to meet their mandate. Which of course makes you wrong on how much savings Fiat would get from mass production. Like I said, $10K is their negative rhetorical BS number in the first place. It is an exaggeration for political effect, and would be greatly reduced over time as Fiat sold enough volume to meet 100% of Fiat/Chrysler's ZEV mandate. Do you know how many Jeeps and Dodges, etc they sell? They have to sell a proportion of those cars in not only California, but in all the ZEV participating states, now and in the future. For you to stick to that $10K number, as if it is locked in stone no matter how many are built, pretty much says it all. I'm sorry you don't understand this program, or are just too willing to swallow politically motivated BS.
        Spec
        • 6 Months Ago
        @raktmn
        I think the $10K/car value can't be taken too seriously. It was an off-hand remark made more than a year ago and made in annoyance. I don't doubt they are losing money on them but losing $10K on a car that they will sell for $32K? So it costs them $42K to build the Fiat 500e? The base model 500 is $15K then subtract the ICE components and add that battery & EV components. No way that adds up to $42K.
          Marcopolo
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Spec
          @ Spec That's an overly simplistic, and completely inaccurate, description of what it cost to produce an electric version of an existing production model. Production of the Fiat 500 e could easily cost Chrysler $42,000 for a limited production version, especially in view of the all the features offered.
          brotherkenny4
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Spec
          I think your correct, except as Marco points out, your method is somewhat simplistic, although likely a good general guide. They would also have development costs and added overhead costs. However, much as with the Volt, they can make money if they sell enough. To say they are losing money is disingenuous on the part of Fiat. They will lose money only if they refuse to sell in quantity. Interestly, Fiat has priced the car to be approximately at the break even point for the consumer. That is, at $25K (after $7,500 federal tax credit), a typical consumer with an appropriate commute would pay as much for commuting as they would driving a four cylinder economy car in the $15K range (having to pay more for gasoline than electricity-total cost of ownwership and operation). So, having it priced at that price suggests that they may actually want to sell more than they say. I wonder if the car companies are so afraid of the irrational right wing and their illogical and blind followers, that they just don't want to admit they are heading in this direction. Think of it, GM is traditionally a right wing company who made cars for right wingers. Perhaps that's why they haven't lowered the price. Right wingers are just as likely if not more to be new car buyers. And, what can you say to a right winger to make them see the facts, once they have been schooled by Rush Limbaugh on the correct things to hate? There is nothing in my opinion, in the way of facts that changes a right wingers mind once they developed their internal hatred of that thing.
      • 6 Months Ago
      "California's (ridiculously) mandated EV sales" - why do you think these are ridiculous?
      raktmn
      • 6 Months Ago
      I've seen claims of break-even on the Leaf after 3 years. Which would imply profit in years 4, 5, etc. This isn't all that different from any line of gas cars. Profitability is calculated in years, not months. And over the life of the product, not starting with the first unit.
      • 6 Months Ago
      I think the Nissan Leaf is the best conversion as it is the gas Nissan Tiida C12
      Mr.Electric
      • 6 Months Ago
      I called a dealer. It is going to be tough to get the lease deal of $999 down $199/ month. The dealers are getting like 10 vehicles each and those are pre selling quick. If they don't presell the allotment, extra cars could be left over to lease. Don't expect to buy one of the few production 500 e's for $21k or to lease one for $199/month no matter how good your credit score. Supply and demand will drive the price way up.
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Mr.Electric
        I guess that means the eSport package 500e's will be that much rarer. Are they really charging $1,000+ extra for that? If they ever do lease any will it be the same $199 lease price for the eSport versions. Digital Trends did a review with the nero color 500e equipped with the eSport package I want: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/first-drive-fiats-500e-proves-an-italian-accent-is-the-key-to-making-evs-cool/ <-- That is the perfect setup- I wouldn't change a thing. "eSport Package offers an electrifying ensemble of aesthetic accents that includes a Nero (Black) colored interior with Arancio Elettrico (Electric Orange) trim, Black front and rear fascias, dark wheels with Orange inserts, a body-color spoiler, Orange mirror caps, a body colored instrument panel bezel, unique FIAT® 500e badging, e-Sport package side graphics, and dark tinted exterior light surrounds."
      Spiffster
      • 6 Months Ago
      I agree 50K is too much. Good thing Toyota has been knocking off 10K for a few months now.
      Spec
      • 6 Months Ago
      Yeah, it is a bit ironic that the company with the CEO that whined the most about EVs ended up producing one of the best EVs. If he stopped whining and actually put a little more effort to sell this car, they could probably sell a lot of them all across the country. And I doubt they are really losing $10K on each one.
        karlInSanDiego
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Spec
        Of course, volume would defray R&D, but considering how this came about quickly, I'm willing to bet they threw a lot of cash down a hole and are easily losing more than $10k on each. But the point of the CA mandate wasn't to penalize car companies nor make them more profitable. It was to encourage each to rise to the challenge with a solution, give CA buyers (and eventually the world) a new market of clean tailpipe cars and hopefully overcome manufacturer's reluctance to deviate from gas along the way. Capitalism, and shareholder demanded constant positive revenue, would likely not have allowed it. I hope Autoblog (and Green) remember it when 25 years from now we can barely remember gas cars, and you're writing about the tipping point of our transition off of gas.
        dumbright1
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Spec
        With the high prices of the battery cells, pack, high voltage electronics, motor and unique interior/exterior the direct costs are high, especially with low production volumes. Then add in the indirect costs (all the engineering, wind tunnel time, testing, dealer equipment and training) that also get spread over low volume. I believe that $10k number. Other manufacturers seem to have to charge that much more too, or subsidize the cars quite a bit. And xEV sales are still a drop in the bucket, even with them being almost the same price as ICE cars (in CA). You can't just force the market to buy it. But California lawmakers think they can through legislation. We'll see how that goes. BTW, I am pro EVs. I am just realistic that they just aren't to the tipping point yet.
      Reggie
      • 6 Months Ago
      500's small shape is perfectly suited for an EV. Fiat's little 500 has gone from zero sales in the last few years when it first went on sale in the UK, to hero a regular in the UK to 10 sales chart. Fiat 500 No8 in the UK top best selling cars in April. http://www.smmt.co.uk/2013/05/growth-continues-in-april-new-car-market/
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