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What’s Fiat’s new electric car masterplan?
The new electric 500 looks great and has a punchy price, but what’s coming next?
Fiat has a new electric car. But could it – should it – have more than one?
To refresh your memory, we’re talking about the new 500, which is an EV only. You can still buy a 500 with a petrol engine, though – it’s the old model, and it’ll stay on sale for a few more years, badged ‘500 Classic’.
What about an electric Panda, or a new Punto EV? Has Fiat forgotten all about the Centoventi concept it revealed to huge acclaim in 2019? Fiat president Olivier Francois says we should keep the faith…
“Centoventi isn’t dead. It’s still an ongoing project.” However, he’s more keen everyone concentrates on the 500, which is now on sale costing from £20k in the UK. That’s loads cheaper than the Honda e and Mini Electric, which both kick off in the mid-£20ks.
Francois confirms the electric Fiat 500’s platform will support other Fiat group cars. The question is when, but Fiat is tight-lipped. Thing is, at £20k the 500 is about as cheap as Fiat can reasonably go right now for a small EV, so building a less premium plug-in Panda is going to be about as profitable as a Siberian ice cream parlour.
What about a fast one? “We’d love to do an Abarth,” the boss admits, but counters that “the regular electric 500 is so fun to drive.” You can read our complete verdict here: there’s potential there for sure. Fiat might well hold back and see if Honda has a go at building an ‘e Type R’ first.
Besides, the now-ancient Abarth 595 was never a particularly sharp driving tool. Neither were its rivals, like the VW Up GTI, Smart Brabus and Renault Twingo RS. But the not-a-Fiat outsold the lot of ‘em.
Could Fiat be about to spin off a whole family of electric 500s, then? Don’t hold your breath. Even the new ‘3+1’ door arrangement hasn’t been signed off for the UK.
“3+1 hasn’t been developed for [putting the door on] the other side,” Francois explains. “It’s on the driver’s side for the UK and that wasn’t well received in the Mini Clubman.
“Theoretically we could do it quickly. It would take some investment but that’s okay, but I don’t want to make the investment and then p*ss off our faithful 500 customers. Doing nothing is the easiest way not to make a mistake but if you do nothing you don’t get very far.”
Meanwhile, has Fiat seen enough interest in its EV to convince the brand to go all-in on electric? Olivier says he’s pleased with the level of pre-orders, but they’re not coming from regular Fiat customers.
“We want to convince as many customers as possible to go electric. The whole idea is to shift traditional 500 customers into EV customers. Sooner or later, urban customers will need an EV.
“We’re not arrogant. We’re not saying the car is so amazing they will have to buy it, but it is charming enough they want to check it out. For now, only 14 per cent of orders are coming from people who already own the 500.”
What’s more, Francois reckons Fiat’s retro, familiar design can tap into a market that isn’t impressed by ultra-futuristic interiors from the likes of Honda and even Tesla.
“Some EVs are scary for super-traditional customers”, reckons Mr Fiat President. “They take [customers] out of their comfort zone. That’s why for example our default mode is two-pedal driving.
“Some of the competition are deliberately weird and nerdy.”
Should Fiat be more ambitious with its electric cars? Do you think the boss has a point that EVs are too sometimes ground-breaking for their own good? Sound off below…