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All-Electric Fiat 500e Unveiled at L.A. Auto Show

Green  /   /  By Bradley Berman

Fiat today unveiled an all-electric version of its iconic 500 subcompact. Every bit as cute and iconic as the gas-powered Fiat 500, the so-called 500e takes on a blend of both retro and futuristic design—complete with dot patterns on the front grille influenced by Italian furniture, and a new Electric Orange color for the exterior, and interior accents. But in the most fundamental way, the Fiat 500e breaks from tradition by offering a zero-emissions all-electric powertrain.

The Fiat 500e delivers more than 80 miles of estimated range on single charge, by virtue of its 24 kilowatt-hour liquid-cool lithium ion battery pack. Power is delivered via a 111-horsepower 83-kilowatt electric motor.

It’s expected to deliver an estimated 116 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) in the city and 100 MPGe highway. In an EV, engineers can decide how much to mimic the feel of a conventional automobile. It appears that Fiat is aiming for familiarity, by adding a “creep” feature that launches the car as soon as its brake pedal is released, just like a vehicle powered by an idling engine.

According to Fiat, the electric 500 was designed to match—if not beat—the driving pleasure of the conventional version in terms of performance, handling and braking. An upgraded chassis and suspension increases spring rates and shock-tuning, for optimum ride comfort and body control. All electric cars are quiet, but the Fiat 500e promises to bring cabin noise to a whisper. Fiat engineers developed an all-new noise, vibration and harshness package for this car.

The car comes loaded with 21st century technology, including TomTom navigation route planning (with locations to nearby charging stations), and a smartphone app unique to the 500e. Large digital readouts on the dash indicate speed and range, as well as dynamic gauges providing feedback on battery state-of-charge. The battery’s liquid thermal-management system maintains battery capacity even in very cold or hot climates, avoiding problems with diminished range experienced by Nissan Leaf owners in Arizona.
When using a 240-volt power source, a depleted empty battery pack can be completely filled in four hours.

General Motors also used the L.A. Auto Show to debut its own small electric car, the 2014 Spark EV. GM announced that the electric Spark will be sold for $25,000—after a $75,00 federal tax credit. Pricing has not been announced for the Fiat 500e.

The subcompact EV segment is growing more crowded, with the Fiat 500e joining the Spark EV, Smart Electric Drive, and Mitsubishi i. This segment has until now not proven very popular. But not until the arrival of the Fiat 500e has there been a small EV with this much pizzazz and charisma. It goes on sale in California sometime next year.

About the Author

Bradley Berman is a leading writer and researcher about electric cars and green transportation. He regularly contributes driving reviews and technology articles to The New York Times, Fortune, MIT Technology Review, Popular Mechanics, and other publications.

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  1. jstack6 March 13, 2013 at 9:15 pm Reply

    Price is a big thing, We’ll see what it come out and is really available locally. Here in Phoenix EVs need thermal management to keep the batteries from getting too hot and losing capacity and dying before they should.

    The thermally managed system like Tesla, FOCUS and even SMART have are the best for life of vehicle battery systems.

    Always lease an EV since they are changing so fast and each 2 years you get lower prices and more range and features.

  2. Bradley Berman March 14, 2013 at 10:41 am Reply

    @jstack6 – I’m a fan of leasing an EV as well. While it might not be the absolute best economic decision for every vehicle, I really like EVs, and feel like technology/design is evolving fast. Thermal management is a great example of that. The Leaf definitely had problems in Arizona. I live in mild Bay Area, but still feel like range will continue to improve.

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