Scrappy Italian brand Fiat has risen from the proverbial ashes once again. Launched way back in 1899, Fiat established itself in the US in 1908 and has weathered storms through the two world wars, twice departing the American market to regroup. Now a subsidiary of auto conglomerate Stellantis, which also owns brands such as Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Ram, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo, Fiat is finding its footing with an expansion of its small-car lineup. Only this time, it’s as an EV manufacturer.
Seeing an opening with the departure of the Ford Fiesta from the market this year, Fiat showcased a trio of super-chic 500e models mocked up with designer-brand interiors at the LA Auto Show on November 18. The ultra-compact, Euro-stylish Fiat 500 has always been adorable and represents la dolce vita (“the sweet life” in Italian) that Americans find charming. In EV form as the 500e, its appeal expands exponentially.
Lavishly festooned with design elements from luxury brands Giorgio Armani, Kartell, and Bulgari, the 500e models on display were intentionally set up to lay out the brand’s direction and pricing structure. Fiat boss Oliver François told Autocar UK that making small electric cars affordable is a challenge, but he’s tapping into all the resources of its parent company to leverage experience and manufacturing synergies.
“The only super-profitable, easy way to go electric is to make it super-premium, because you embed the horribly high cost of batteries into something that is anyway expensive,” François said.
Fiat called the 500e “irresistibly cool, small and Italian” and a “fashion accessory” in its November 17 press release, indicating the automaker’s branding strategy. Combining the electrification trend with fashion is a bet the brand can win, especially in Europe where small cars are more common. However, in the US, where consumers have been in the middle of a love affair with large SUVs and trucks, these vehicles represent a welcome step in the other direction—if people can be convinced to buy them.
At some point, we may get an Abarth version of the 500e, too. Following the tracks of its (sadly) now-defunct 124 Abarth, the new 500e Abarth will be a performance-focused option available later on, with no confirmed date currently in place. The result of a glorious partnership with Mazda, the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth was based on the popular MX-5 Miata and shared many of its attributes. However, the 124 Spider Abarth possesses a spunky attitude that reveals itself on the autocross as the back half slips around with a delightful wiggle not unlike the wagging tail of an exuberant dog. The 500e may not have the same swagger and is narrower and taller than its 124 counterpart, but the 500 model has always been equally eager to please in all kinds of driving conditions. Except, perhaps in the snow (unless it’s hard-packed).
In Europe, the 500e is available with a 23.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack good for 100 miles of range or a 42 kWh battery pack capable of 199 miles on a full charge. On the surface, that sounds shockingly inadequate, until you consider that this car is made for the urban environment where owners will be driving it short distances from charger to charger. It’s the right car for the city for short commutes and tight parking, but it may not be the best choice for a road trip.
According to Consumer Guide’s Tom Appel, gas- and electric-powered versions of the 500 were available in the US between 2012 and 2019, with the caveat that the 500e was offered only in California and Oregon. Appel expects the new Fiat model to be offered more broadly for the 2025 model. The North American 500e will launch officially at the 2023 Los Angeles Auto Show with availability expected in the first quarter of 2024.