Chrysler Group LLC took a small step in the direction of electrification this week, rolling out a battery-powered, mini-compact hatchback. The Fiat 500e is the first electric vehicle introduced by Chrysler since the company discontinued production of the Dodge EPIC minivan (which was sold only to fleets) in 1999, and the first electric production car in its 87-year history.
"It's an electric vehicle that doesn't act like an electric appliance," said Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Chrysler LLC and Fiat Automobiles, during the vehicle's streamed introduction from the Los Angeles Auto Show. "It brings beauty to the world of electric vehicles -- Italian design, legendary heritage, and an electric powerplant."
Click on the image below to see the Fiat 500e.
A "retro-futuristic design" includes seven-inch thin film transistor displays in the instrument cluster to illustrate vehicle functions, charge levels, and trip summaries.
(Source: Chrysler Group)
The new Fiat will feature an all-electric driving range of 80 miles, along with an estimated 108MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) fuel efficiency. Powered by a 111hp permanent magnet electric motor, the vehicle will hit a top speed of 85mph. Its 24kWh lithium-ion battery is similar in capacity to that of the well-known Nissan Leaf electric car, and it can be charged in approximately four hours at 240V. The liquid-cooled battery pack and the electric motor are supplied by Bosch Automotive.
Chrysler said the vehicle will be sold only in California for now, but added that it is not a so-called "compliance car," aimed at satisfying the requirements of California's zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate. "Obviously, there is a mandate," Chrysler spokesman Jiyan Cadiz told Design News. "But for us, it's more important than that. It's the first time we're doing an electric vehicle, so it's our chance to gain competency and show that we can do it." Cadiz added that the vehicle program gives Chrysler engineers an opportunity to develop expertise in EV batteries and electric powertrains.
Up until this week's introduction of the Fiat 500e, Chrysler executives have publicly resisted any suggestion of widespread electrification of the company's vehicle line. "I'm not scared, I just won't do it," said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, referring to electrification, in an interview with Automobile Magazine in July 2012. "I just will not do it. I think we're smoking illegal materials if we think we're going to make those [profitably]. It just won't work."
Industry analysts said Marchionne's earlier comments are one of several indications that the 500e's main role is to meet California's ZEV standards. "It's definitely a compliance vehicle," Kevin See, an industry analyst for Lux Research Inc., told Design News. "I wouldn't expect many to be sold."
Still, Chrysler said the vehicle's development involved a significant engineering effort. The technical staff employed 140 hours of wind tunnel testing to deliver a 13 percent aerodynamics improvement (0.311 coefficient of drag) over its conventionally powered 2013 Fiat 500. By doing so, it added five miles of all-electric range.
Chrysler also pointed to the vehicle's high-tech interior as an example of the technology that's going into the 500e. The interior includes seven-inch thin-film transistor instrument cluster displays, navigation system, power-flow gauges, and an electronic shifter with pushbutton transmission mode selection. "It's a great canvas," Cadiz told us, referring to the company's Cinquecento lineup, which includes the 500e. "It's the perfect car for us to do electric."