A big problem in UK is finding a Fiat dealer competent to work on the new 500e. In the US starting with the small number of remaining Fiat franchises, the situation is potentially worse.Has Fiat thought about where to sell the 500e. Most of all the Fiat studio’s have gone belly up
across the country.
The all-electric Fiat 500e has made its debut at this year's LA Auto Show and CarBuzz was on hand to discuss the tiny EV with Brand Chief Executive Officer Oliver Francois. The city car's return, this time solely as an EV, made us wonder whether Fiat has plans for additional models, EV or not. The answer was a flat "No." Even though Fiat is parent company Stellantis' biggest global brand, followed by Peugeot, the reality is that Fiat's US presence is very small.
"Do we need America? No. Does America need us? Certainly not," Francois said. "But we have a fanbase. We tried to introduce other models [like the 500X crossover and 500L hatchback], but 500 is Fiat. It's a one-model brand [in the US]. We don't need any others. I don't see the potential for brand expansion."
Francois did add there could still be some 500e "variations" down the road but nothing has been decided at this time. The 500e went on sale last year in Europe and, so far, has been an "overwhelming success," particularly in Germany. Francois added that the Italian-built 500e is very expensive to import and "there are no real benefits" in doing so except one: the learning experience.
"Importing a car requires a lot of money to federalize but we crave to learn and create. Automotive is the last industry on earth doing the same thing it did 50 years ago. There are disruptors coming in and we want to do that too."
But importing the 500e to this side of the pond does have another drawback, aside from the costs. "Clients that we serve here are just clients we cannot serve there [Europe]." Fiat knows the 500e is a small-volume model and they want to see what happens once it goes on sale. If it proves to be popular, Fiat will strongly consider taking appropriate measures. We also had to inquire about the possibility of a future 500e Abarth. Francois did not have a direct answer, only saying that he "hopes so."
In Europe, the new Fiat 500e boasts a 42 kWh battery pack with a total of 117 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque at the front axle. Expect similar figures for the US-spec model. America's new Fiat 500e is slated to go on sale in early 2024.
Autoblog said:LOS ANGELES – While we're excited for the Fiat 500e's arrival in the U.S., and we think there's a clear niche for it, we still had loads of questions about what models were coming, if any changes would be made and what else might be coming for the Italian brand. And in a roundtable interview with Fiat Brand CEO Olivier François, we learned all that and more. So let's go over the fascinating electric future of Fiat in the U.S.
The Future is 500
And when we say that it's 500, we mean only 500e. François revealed that, although it's not going away immediately, the 500X crossover will be discontinued when this generation reaches the end of its lifecycle. His reasoning for this move is that only one model really struck a chord with American buyers: the regular 500. He pointed out that it had, at once point, 60% of the ultra-small segment ahead of Mini. And it was successful because it was an iconic car that met a very specific niche for a very specific buyer: something small and stylish that worked well as a commuter and city car. He noted that the 500L, with a focus on practicality, wasn't something that a mainstream buyer was looking for, nor that niche buyer. And it's a similar case for the 500X. So the brand is shifting back to its most popular, core model, and it has no plans in the near term to expand beyond that.
Exactly which 500e variants will be offered here is still being decided. There are three versions in Europe right now, the hatchback, soft-top and quirky three-door (with a half-door on the passenger side a la Mazda MX-30). They will be joined by a sporty Abarth version soon. François noted that they could start with one version and offer others later, or perhaps the hatch and convertible simultaneously. The three-door seems unlikely, as there isn't much demand for such a small car with a marginally easier-to-access rear seat. The Abarth is something François said he would like to offer here (and we would love to accept), but that will likely be determined by how well this new Fiat strategy works. He did say that any of them could be offered, but it depends on the brand's success and strategy. One interesting tidbit that could complicate the convertible is that the most successful states for the 500 were California and Florida, which are both states were convertibles don't do great. Larry Dominique, senior vice president and head of Fiat and Alfa Romeo in the U.S., noted that the majority of convertible buyers are actually in much snowier states.
Regardless of body style, the specs will apparently remain very similar to the European model. Small changes will be made for U.S. regulations such as standard safety features, lighting, tire specifications and such, but it will broadly be the same. It comes with a 42-kWh battery that's rated for 199 miles of range on the European WLTP cycle (expect less on the U.S. test loop). Under the hood is a 117-horsepower electric motor powering the front wheels. DC fast charging would be available for the car.
Fiat will be Stellantis' American EV test run
One of the surprising things François revealed was how small Fiat's footprint in the U.S. is. He said that annual sales peaked a bit over 40,000 units a year in the U.S., which is minuscule next to Fiat's global sales of more than a million units a year. Many automakers would probably just quit the market, but not Fiat. Apparently the plan is to use Fiat as a way to try out new ideas for selling cars and as a testbed for selling EVs in the U.S. Fiat will be the first Stellantis brand to start selling EVs, even before bigger nameplates like Jeep and Dodge.
Apparently the strategy is that, since Fiat is a small niche brand that's not a huge volume seller, it's not a terrible loss if things don't go super smoothly. As François said, if things go well, that's good to learn and apply to other brands. If they don't, then that's also good to learn, and it wasn't a huge mistake.
Among some of the new ideas being tossed around for Fiat are fully digital marketing and new ways to buy or use cars. Or at least, new-ish. Subscription models are certainly on the table, as are possible car-sharing models. François noted that a small chic city car would be a strong option for car sharing, particularly in urban areas, and it could represent a point for people to experience a 500e in a way that might lead them to buy one.
Urban centers are also where Fiat will focus on selling the 500e. François talked about how this is a car for two key types of buyers, both likely in large cities. One is the buyer that has multiple cars that all do different things, and the 500e would fit the efficient, stylish commuter. The other would be someone looking for something stylish but might be better suited to a subscription model or even car sharing. As he put it: people with large driveways or people without driveways at all. And of course, the somewhat shorter range of the 500e compared to other more practical options lends itself to city life.
One final question that was asked, but not answered, was pricing. A big part of that is simply that it hasn't been set, period. So there's nothing really to say. François did say that the car wouldn't be "cheap." We take that to mean that it won't be a bargain-basement kind of car. So it may be priced more like a Mini Cooper SE. He also noted that there would be no plans to offer big discounts on the car, no matter what. The reason, besides the fact that big discounts probably wouldn't help the image, is that Fiat 500e production is currently constrained. They're selling every example they can make in other markets, and with how small the U.S. market will be, Fiat won't have to worry about moving out inventory. Interestingly, this is also partly why the 500e hasn't come to the U.S. sooner. François said that it's been such a success that the brand had to prioritize getting examples to Europe.
For a period, the first-gen was offered in the US under favourable financing contracts where you could lease one for $0 down with a payment under $200 USD per month. Lots of people got one then, including me. We will not see deals like that again.That’s good news. They’re a great little car if rather expensive. Was your 1st gen expensive?
Thanks. I'd have jumped on that too. Be interesting to see the 500e price with you this time. I wonder if building stock for you is why they aren't building RHD at the moment.For a period, the first-gen was offered in the US under favourable financing contracts where you could lease one for $0 down with a payment under $200 USD per month. Lots of people got one then, including me. We will not see deals like that again.
Fortunately it's nearly never a problem. All 2,600 Stellantis dealerships (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, etc) always had all the 1st-gen software updates available. The last one was way back in 2018.A big problem in UK is finding a Fiat dealer competent to work on the new 500e. In the US starting with the small number of remaining Fiat franchises, the situation is potentially worse.
With the 2nd generation 500e, certainly the early ones, it's quite common to have to go back to a dealer for software updates.Fortunately it's nearly never a problem. All 2,600 Stellantis dealerships (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, etc) always had all the 1st-gen software updates available. The last one was way back in 2018.
Since then, nearly nobody ever needs a dealership at all. Any independent service center can do the standard fluid checks & standard inspections: Suspension, steering, CV joints, brakes, & hoses.
Motor Trend said:The Fiat 500e is returning to North America in 2024 as an unapologetically cute—and expensive—electric vehicle that will test the waters for the higher-volume EVs to come from the 14 brands under the Stellantis umbrella.
The current Fiat 500e was launched in Europe in late 2020, so it will be a few years into its lifecycle by the time it goes on sale in the U.S. in early 2024, with orders opening six months prior to the on-sale date. By then executives will have decided whether to offer the city car as a coupe, convertible, or both, and have a better idea of rollout plans for variants such as performance Abarth or premium Gucci models.
Ridiculously High Prices
Volumes won't be high—Fiat brand CEO Olivier Francois is fine with 10,000 a year. Or less. "The car will be expensive," he says, and there could be special, limited-time-only versions offered at "ridiculously high" prices.
It is possible because Fiat does not need to sell any 500es on this side of the ocean. The 100,000 vehicles a year the Mirafiori plant in Italy can make is not enough to meet demand in Europe and other markets so Fiat does not need additional North American sales or market share. Instead, every vehicle sold in the U.S. takes away a potential sale elsewhere, and Olivier says he does not want to lose sales leadership in European markets because production was diverted to North America.
But the successful launch and sales of the Fiat 500e in Europe inspired plans for another shot in North America, where the 500 was discontinued after the 2019 model year. Only the larger Fiat 500X is still sold in the U.S. today.
Not A Compliance Vehicle
"We're coming to America because we want to, not because we need to," Olivier says of the return of the 500 which was confirmed with some Fiat 500e concepts unveiled at the 2022 Los Angeles Auto show. But the new 2024 500e will not be positioned as an entry level or compliance vehicle.
"We won't sell on price," a confident Olivier says. "People will line up to buy this. We won't have enough cars for the demand."
The new 500e will be a second, third, or fourth car in someone's driveway. The frisky commuter with 162 lb-ft of torque, about 150 miles of range, and the ability to add 30 miles of range in five minutes on an 85-kW fast charger, is well-suited for daily errands.
The focus will be on select urban areas at launch. It won't be offered in all 50 states but won't be limited to the states that have adopted the ZEV (zero emission vehicles) program.
Why Is Fiat Bringing Back The 500?
Why even bring the Fiat 500 back? The tiny city car ended its North American run after sales continued to decline from their peak of about 62,000 a year including roughly 40,000 in the U.S., and because the Toluca, Mexico, plant that was building them needed to divert all its capacity to making the Jeep Compass.
The previous 500 had two distinct customers: those who wanted an affordable vehicle, and those who wanted a high-end Gucci or Abarth version. As much as 40 percent of the sales were the premium models, Olivier says. And that is the customer Fiat will go after with the new 500e—and potentially Gucci and Abarth models in the future.
Fiat 500e Abarth Likely U.S. Bound
Fiat will be showing the electric Abarth for Europe next week and if successful, it could make its way across the ocean, Olivier says. "I would love to offer it in the U.S. at some point." He says the decision has not been made.
Learning Curve For Future EVs
The real value in offering the 500e in the U.S. is to be at the forefront in exploring alternate business models and test new ways to sell EVs that can be shared across the automaker. The 500e will be the first EV from Stellantis in the U.S., but all 14 brands have electric vehicles in the works including the Dodge Charger Daytona SRT that is an electric muscle car, an electric Ram 1500, electric Chryslers based on the Airflow concept, and a whole lotta Jeeps.
"We need to learn about the EV car future in the U.S.," Olivier says. Fiat is the perfect canary in the coalmine because it is not reliant on volume in the U.S.
Sales and pricing are areas to test. Olivier, only half-jokingly, asks why the car even needs a sticker price. He wants to explore leases, subscriptions, and other alternative means of offering a 500e to someone for an hour, a day, a month, or a year, or priced by the mile, for those who don't want to buy one outright. The brand chief also wants to experiment with online purchasing. A direct-sales model is less likely, given that it is not allowed in all states.
Fiat is also mulling limited-time offers—think the return of the McRib. "Maybe we have availability for some with first come, first serve, with a ridiculously high price and it'll sell out," Olivier says. The three-door model offered in Europe, for example, could be offered for six months and then the window would close. But Fiat will have to decide what to homologate and what not to, says Larry Dominique who heads Fiat in North America. The version with the suicide door might not be a worthy candidate.
No Big Ad Campaign Planned
Because sales and volume are not priorities, all marketing for the 2024 Fiat 500e in North America will be digital. The man behind the former Chrysler's iconic Superbowl commercials has no plans to get big names like Eminem or Clint Eastwood to star in 2-minute ads. He doubts he will make any commercials at all for the Fiat.
But Olivier, who is a whisperer to the stars, is enlisting A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio to help him auction off three one-off Fiat 500e designer concept cars with the proceeds to be used to fight climate change. The cars were created in partnership with Giorgio Armani, furniture designer Kartell, and jeweler Bulgari.
The production version of the 2024 Fiat 500e will be shown next year at the 2023 LA auto show. The only changes from the European model are homologation necessities to meet regulations. And the U.S model will only come in one trim, with the larger battery.