Chrysler Admits: Electric Fiat 500 Is Compliance Car We Don't Want To Make

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2012 Fiat 500 Electric/Elettra

2012 Fiat 500 Electric/Elettra

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Three weeks ago, we listed five upcoming electric cars that we felt were strictly "compliance cars"--or vehicles carmakers offer not because they want to, but because they must do so to comply with California zero-emission vehicle rules.

Now Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has admitted that his company's upcoming electric Fiat 500 conversion is just that: a compliance car.

In a collection of interviews last week, summarized in AutoWeek magazine, he said the company was building the car solely to comply with requirements in California and the other states that have adopted its more stringent emissions rules.

And, he added almost as an afterthought, to familiarize Chrysler-Fiat's engineers with electric powertrains.

Marchionne's views on electric cars have been clear for quite a while.

He reiterated them to Automobile magazine, when asked about putting electric cars into production:

I'm not scared, I just won't do it. 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.

And there you have it.

At least he's consistent, since Chrysler admitted more than a year ago that it would lose $10,000 or more on every Fiat 500 Electric that it sells.

We must admit, we like Marchionne's honesty.

We'd much rather know where he stands than suffer the protestations of another carmaker that touts an upcoming electric vehicle as proof of its green credibility while declining to respond to even simple questions about the car.


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Comments (32)
  1. Electric cars would hardly be the first production cars that Automakers lose money on. Almost every high quality sport model (Supra, S2000, etc.) is a money losing venture.

  2. The nature of "compliance designs" is ridiculous. Either CA needs to set a minimum volume along with the design stipulation, or drop the pretense. Nothing is gained by anyone by going through these gyrations.

  3. California has set a minimum volume, that's why there are compliance cars. All manufactures who sell over 10,000 (can't remember the exact amount) HAVE to make zero emission vehicles, or they can buy ZEV credits (or used to). Since the original ZEV mandate in 1998, the number is significantly lower, but the number never went to zero.

  4. The sad thing is that they are only complying rather then trying to be competitive or innovative. Compliance cars hurt the industry and those who are in the industry who are actually trying to be competitive. This half hearted approach is only going to lead crappy cars that could turn a lot of people off electric cars. Thats why the Tesla Model S is so important, it's almost the only pure electric car soon to enter production that will try and show the electric cars true potential and innovation.

  5. Don't forget about the Leaf. Nissan has committed like no other manufacturer to EVs. Although it's not designed from the ground up as an EV like the Tesla, they had to work with their existing manufacturing process.

  6. To comply, a company has three choices: 1) embrace the new market for EVs and compete to design profitable EVs that satisfy customer needs and desires, 2) build an EV that is a good, competitive car at low volumes as prototypes, or 3) don't invest and put a crappy product out solely to meet the mandate. It's clear that the car companies that are building or plan to build world class EVs also build world class ICE cars. These companies are more innovative and creative than Chrysler. These companies build better cars overall. Chrysler's approach to EVs is a symptom of a larger problem - all of their cars are crappy, not just EVs.

  7. Ah, the arrogance of those regulation-writing govt representatives who think they are experts about anything, in this case building cars. Do you suppose that any of them are aware of the reason electric cars cost so much and are so difficult to sell (their batteries)? Tesla suggested recently a lifespan of 5 to 8 years and 100,000 miles for their largest
    battery pack. That battery pack costs $44,000. My simple math tells me that the car's operating costs are therefore 44 cents per mile in batteries, plus around 3 cents per mile for electricity. That's almost 50 cents per mile. Still wonder why automakers shy away from building battery operated vehicles? Now let's see those all powerful govts reduce the price of batteries. Yeah, right.

  8. Only an idiot would only use the Telsa S or any one model of vehicle to soley represent a new drivetrain technology. Telsas are still luxury and performance oriented cars for the affluent. They are not designed for all to be able to afford.

    Your example is wrong as your argument too. Cite your sources for making a claim next time knucklehead. Where do u get the $44K for the battery idea? As you can see at the link below, the battery pack you referred to(their largest) has an unlimited miles warranty for 8 years.

    The Telsa S will be a fine car, sell fine, and should last well past the warranty periods like nearly all other vehicles. I wouldn't buy one till at least the 2013 MY though...bound to be a few small kinks for this year.

  9. Don't believe the nonsense. Tesla made no suggestions of a 5-8 year lifespan, nor about replacement cost.

    Here is a research article that suggests that the cells that make up the Model S' battery have a cycle life that's way beyond the lifespan of the car:

    Of course since the car itself is made mostly of aluminum and electric drivetrains last for ever one has to be careful about projections of the lifespan of the vehicle. Might be decades....

  10. While the tone of your argument seems excessively negative, there is something revealing in the math.

    Very large battery packs (e.g. 85KWH) make for very bad use of capital. You pay a lot of money for a battery pack that you mostly carry around and don't use on a daily basis.

    That is the reason I am intrigued by the Chevy Volt EREV drive train. In theory, at least, you only pay for a small battery pack, 16 KWH, which is cheaper and a more completely used piece of capital equipment. Downside, of course, is paying for an ICE engine.

  11. So instead of carrying around batteries, you are carrying around a gas engine and all the supporting emissions controls and gas tank and exhaust system.
    Either way, you end up carrying extra stuff you may not need.
    Telsa was offering the option of renting the larger battery pack for longer trips. Nice idea.

  12. @ John Briggs: The math is nonsense as is the rest of the argument since price of the battery pack and its cycle life are unknown factors.

    One thing is for sure: larger battery packs have a better life expectancy than smaller ones since they have to deliver less power per unit of capacity, won't get the heck cycles out of them, don't have to be charged/discharged beyond the optimal parameters to get a somewhat decent range and have capacity to spare to deal with capacity loss so they retain functional range for a longer period.

    I think it's the small packs that could turn out to be bad use of capital, but only time will tell.

  13. Sergio Marchionne should understand that sometimes you get an offer you can't refuse. His frustration is understandable though. After the great GM EV-1 massacre a decade ago EVs were off the political agenda. But just as he thought he was out they pull him back in.... No need to go to the mattresses though. Seems to me the industry could comply on the cheap by badge engineering and/or let a specialist like Tesla do the conversion for them.

  14. Okay, that did it. Now I am beginning to feel embarrassed to drive a Ford since they, apparently, are controlled by the same idiot GM is controlled by. Of course electric car will never be "profitably" if they never come out with any. For 20 years Ford produced the ugliest vehicles on the road and it nearly sent them into bankruptcy until they changed that ugly cross-eyed puffball with a gaping catfish mouth look when they redesigned the 05 Mustang and came out with the new F150 the same year. They are just barely back from the brink and here they are slipping back into their old stupidity. Keep pissing off your customers Ford and soon, you will have none left.

  15. James, did it ever occur to you the article is about Fiat and not Ford? Yes, the Ford customers are extremely angry, though, and that's why they're doing great. Oh, wait a moment, that's the opposite of angry, isn't it?

  16. Of course robok2, I realize the article is about Chrysler and not Ford, but Chrysler is no loner and American automaker, so why should we give a crap what they do or what they are not going to do in America, or even what they think. They can care less what we think, so why should we care what they think. We have already bashed GM's head in, so now it is Ford's turn to get bashed.

  17. Forget the Fiat. Make a darn SUV, mini-van or whatever electrified. Consumers want that, not a sub-compact electric that already gets good gas mileage. If they can make a suitable 40-50 mile range SUV (cherokee-sized) which gets 80 MPGe - they'd have a huge market for them at $45K. Everyone now is waiting to see what GM can do with a Voltec-powered Equinox in 2015 or so.

  18. Well, two options are the Toyota RAV4 EV (powered by Tesla) or the Tesla Model-X.
    But seriously, we need to get America out of the stupid SUV mindset.

  19. I have a novel idea. How about we let car companies make cars that people (the 99%) want to buy at prices they're willing to pay rather than have the government (the 1%) force car companies to make more of a type of car than there's enough of a market to support yet? Crazy, I know. It's not like there's the entire history of American prosperity to back me up.

  20. No one is forcing any car company to build EVs. If they hate the idea, they car build fossil fuel cars that meet mileage and pollution requirements.

  21. @Mr. Cervini: This is your friendly moderator speaking. I have deleted one of your posts which used bad language. Please have a look at our Terms of Use (linked below the comment box) and abide by them. We welcome comments, but the language has to be usable in family discussion, OK?

  22. @Mr. Cervini: And what you wrote above is not true. The California Air Resources Board is indeed requiring carmakers to sell a certain number of vehicles in the state that have no emissions at all.

    See this article, which was also linked in the text:
    and also this one:

    The "fossil fuel cars that meet mileage and pollution requirements" that you suggest they build do not help in any way to meet the California ZEV requirement.

  23. To be clear, every new technology has started out being prohibitively expensive (think TVs, computers, and cell phones). Over time, the technology improves, prices go down, and more and more people buy those products. The same thing will happen with electric cars. What we DON'T need is to get impatient and call on the government to step in and disrupt this process with mandates and rebates and other things that actually SLOW DOWN the development and adoption of EVs. What a waste that companies have to spend money on cars they know they can't sell.

    Get government out. People will determine when the EV market is ready. Let the process work as effectively and efficiently as it always has with every other technology that is now ubiquitous.

  24. We have less smog in Los Angeles today because CA passed the most stringent air quality standards in the world. Now these standards are embedded in the designs of cars all over the world, saving thousands of lives. Companies like Chrysler are simply not going to embrace any new technology without a hard push. The CA law is fair and will promote EV use worldwide. The volumes of EVs are simply too low at this point in the life cycle to make them at low cost. Fair mandates, well designed regulations, and other incentives are necessary to transition our economy away from ancient oil-based transportation.

  25. And a much more recent history of wars after war to get oil... It's just not that simple, IMHO. I have my own doubts about the level of intervention by government but it wasn't consumers or OEMs recently driving up mileage and lowering emissions, it was the government. I can't state you're wrong, but again, I would not agree it's that simple.

  26. There are more comments in this thread
  27. Sounds like the perfect ammunition we need to petition the govrrnment to require all states to adopt the zero emission requirement

  28. The big automakers certainly do not have it in their hearts to make a nice EV. Look at what GM did to the EV1 after they forcibly took it away from the celebrities who drove it and immediately destroyed it. This is were Tesla can show the big automakers that a practical EV can be made and even though it cost $57,000 to $77,000 it has a 300KW motor which is equivalent to about 400Hp and can go 300 miles on a single charge with the 85KWh battery pack. Tesla has lots riding on this being a success the automakers simply want to produce a uninspired product to get the government off their backs without any intents on selling them. I hope Tesla sells the Model S like hotcakes and shows Detroit that a stylish and practical EV can succeed.

  29. @Mark: It's your friendly moderator here. I note that this is a direct copy-and-paste of a comment you posted on another story, which our commenting system flags as potential spam. Could I ask that you not do that in the future?

    I also note that you've added five comments in a row on three articles that boil down to: Big automakers bad, Tesla good. Got it.

  30. The way "Mark Stang"goes about "promoting" Tesla has always given me the feeling that his agenda is in fact quite the opposite.

  31. @Chris: In many ways that is true. Back in 2002 I was in Las Vegas and I went to the car show at the Imperial palace and my wife took my picture in front of a 1948 Tucker sedan. Unfortunately people like Elon Musk who are willing or financially able to push the envelop of technology do not always succeed despite having a better product. I would like to see the USA become a leader in EV production. It is a very expensive endeavor to build an automobile and when I see the major automakers who defiantly have the capital and manufacturing recourses and know how squandering an opportunity to build a great EV it disappoints me. I feel that America needs to get away from its dependency and addiction on petroleum and to embrace the benifits of EV'S

  32. At least Chrysler-Fiat is honest. Now, I can tell my parents not to bother waiting for the 500 Electric and they should do their own Electric Vehicle Conversion, like what a lot of my friends are now doing.

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