Can an affordable electric car save Fiat? Why the 2023 500e is the Italian brand’s last hope in Australia | Opinion – car news
Australia is one of the most competitive new car markets in the world, meaning not all brands can survive. In recent years, we’ve seen MG and Haval enter (or re-enter) the local scene, while Holden and Chrysler bowed out.
In this context, we look at Fiat, the traditional Italian brand that is currently eking out its survival on the back of a very old model. The current Fiat 500 came in its current guise as a 2016 mid-life upgrade of a city car that was launched back in 2007.
That said, the current model can trace its roots back more than a decade, so it’s hardly surprising that the 500 has topped the sales charts with just 297 sales in the first half of 2022 (according to the Federal Chamber of 17 Automobile Industry).
Read more about the Fiat 500
That’s down 31 percent from pre-pandemic levels, but Fiat Australia’s lineup hasn’t fared any better. In 2019, the local offering consisted of the various Fiat and Abarth 500 models, as well as the 500X compact SUV and the Mazda MX-5 based Abarth 124 Spider. The latter two models have disappeared without replacement; The 500X will still be available for sale in some markets, but the 124 Spider has been discontinued for 2021.
This drop in both the volume of models available and vehicles sold raised legitimate questions about Fiat’s future in the Australian market. Things didn’t get any better when previous requests for comment on the brand’s future weren’t answered with a definitive statement on future plans.
That all changed in May, however, when the brand’s spokesperson confirmed that the all-new, all-electric 500e would be heading Down Under in 2023. This was a big announcement that not only secured the future of the brand (at least in the short term). term), but may also shake up the image of the brand and the market for electric cars.
Although no local details have been announced, including specs or price, the fact that the 500e costs the equivalent of A$35,000 in the UK right-hand drive market opens the door to speculation that this new Fiat will be a price leader in the electric car space.
The cheapest electric car in Australia right now is the BYD Atto 3 at $44,381, so that’s the target Fiat Australia needs to aim for. Whether the company succeeds or not remains to be seen…
What we do know from overseas is that the 500e is larger, more advanced and available with more safety features than the petrol-powered model it replaces.
The new machine is powered by an 87kW electric motor driving the front wheels, paired with a 42kWh lithium-ion battery. It offers a range of up to 320km when tested to the WLTP standard.
It’s also available with an 85kW fast charging system, capable of charging 50km of range in five minutes and 80 per cent in 35 minutes under the right circumstances.
In terms of size, the 500e is 60mm longer, 60mm wider and has a 20mm longer wheelbase than the outgoing 500.
To keep up with modern safety requirements, the new 500e is very well equipped, with level 2 autonomous capabilities thanks to adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitoring and surround view cameras; although it’s obviously too early to know if this will be available in Australia and for which variants.
However, the fact that this larger, more advanced 500e is coming our way opens the door for Fiat to reinvent themselves and the 500 nameplate (which, to be honest, are one and the same in the local market) in Australia, particularly considering the rise and rise of small car prices.
The once budget-conscious Toyota Yaris now starts at $23,740 before road cost and ranges up to $32,200 for the ZR Hybrid. And the Toyota is far from the only one that’s a small car with a big price tag.
The Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo is now a whopping $37,990 (driveway), the entry-level Mazda2 starts at $21,390 and the Volkswagen Polo lineup starts at $25,250.
The current 500 line starts at $19,550 for the Lounge model and goes up to $22,250 for the Dolcevita variant. The sporty Abarth 595 range ranges from $34,260 to $44,950 for the 695 70th Anniversario Edition.
Which is a long phrase, people are willing to pay a premium for the tiny Fiat as long as it offers something special. And the 500e has the potential to be something special, offering a city-friendly electric car for those looking for something eco-friendly with a bit of Italian style and panache.
Perhaps the closest comparison for the 500e would be the new electric Mini, which starts at $55,650 for the three-door SE Classic. If Fiat Australia can get the 500e into showrooms with a price tag that starts at four, then it has a chance of reviving the brand’s waning fortunes in that country.
But if it doesn’t sell well, Fiat faces the same fate as Chrysler, so there’s a lot of pressure on the rear of this tiny car…