Fiat Has Nothing to Lose With Electrical 500’s Shock Second Act

The model’s boss sees the automotive being an experimental vessel to discover new enterprise fashions, use instances and types of possession.

This week, Fiat introduced one thing stunning: The Italian auto model will convey the electrical model of its trendy metropolis automotive again to the US, a number of years after pulling it off the market.

The return of the Fiat 500e is a little bit of a head-scratcher. People like tremendous sized, in spite of everything, with vehicles and sport utility autos making up virtually 80% of new-car gross sales final month. The lovable little cinquecento may be good for navigating medieval alleyways in Europe, however driving on the freeway in a single between big pickups and three-row SUVs could make one really feel just a little susceptible.

Olivier Francois, the worldwide head of the Fiat model, is undaunted. He confirmed off three idea variations of the electrical 500 on the Los Angeles auto present on Thursday, and mentioned the mannequin will make its approach again to US showrooms in 2024.

That is simply the most recent twist in an already fascinating historical past for Fiat and the five hundred within the US. Sergio Marchionne, the larger-than-life CEO who handed away all of a sudden in 2018, introduced the model and automotive again to America over a decade in the past as a part of a cope with then-President Barack Obama.

Marchionne used his grasp negotiating abilities to persuade the Obama administration through the monetary disaster to let Fiat take Chrysler out of chapter with out having to pay a dime for its preliminary 20% possession stake. What Fiat dropped at the desk have been platforms and powertrains for aggressive small automobiles that Chrysler lacked (Obama famously requested why Detroit’s ailing automakers could not make a Corolla.)

The Fiat 500 debuted in 2011 with a splashy advert marketing campaign that includes Jennifer Lopez. The battery-powered model that adopted ensured Chrysler might preserve promoting its profitable Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups in states led by California that set stricter emissions guidelines.

Gross sales by no means lived as much as expectations. The ever-candid Marchionne as soon as lamented he misplaced as a lot as $20,000 on every electrical 500 he offered and requested shoppers to not purchase it. He mentioned quickly after Fiat returned to the US that it had taken with no consideration how tough succeeding within the extremely aggressive American market could be.

“We thought we have been going to indicate up and simply due to the actual fact individuals like gelato and pasta, individuals would purchase it,” he mentioned on the Detroit auto present in 2012. “That is nonsense.”

In contrast to final time round, the 500e will not be produced in North America. Stellantis will import it from Fiat’s electrical automobile hub in Turin, Italy.

The automotive is successful in Europe, rating because the third best-seller this yr via September. It sells for about €22,000 ($22,800) after incentives and gives 150 miles of battery vary.

I requested Francois if this was Fiat’s try to supply an EV to the lots, one thing Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares usually says is direly wanted.

Francois advised Fiat is bringing the automotive again to the US as a type of guinea pig: an experimental vessel to discover new enterprise fashions, use instances and types of possession.

“The actual return on funding of this mission is studying, intel,” he advised me. “We’ve got nothing to lose and all the things to win.”

Though Francois did not point out it, the Fiat 500 would work effectively with Stellantis’ Free2Move, the car-sharing and subscription enterprise it has been working since 2016. Whereas different automakers have bailed on car-sharing as a money-losing endeavor, Stellantis has been uniquely bullish, claiming it is cracked the code to working profitably.

Automobile-sharing works finest in dense city facilities, which is exactly the place Francois plans to market the brand new 500e. It is an apparent match.

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