Italian automaker Fiat SpA missed a chance to benefit from growing global interest in electric-drive vehicles by giving up on some of its advanced-powertrain development efforts in favor of trying to develop more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines. That's the feeling of Corrado Clini, a member of Italy's Ministry of the Environment, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Clini said that Fiat's hybrid-electric Multipla, which was developed in the 1990s but has long been shelved, "was more sophisticated than the Toyota Prius," and that Fiat's Magneti Marelli division was not being sufficiently utilized in the development of electric-drive components, the Journal reported.

Fiat's electric-vehicle efforts have been limited to development work on an battery-electric powered Fiat 500. While this car was never released, a specially converted 500 EV was notoriously owned by deceased Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fiat's sister company Chrysler displayed a battery-powered 500 at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show, and has said that a production model may be ready for the 2013 model year.

Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne once estimated that his company will lose $10,000 on each Fiat 500 EV sold. He also conceded in an interview with Automotive News last fall that Chrysler will need to make hybrid vehicles in order to meet progressively more stringent greenhouse-gas emissions standards in the U.S.

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