Much of the auto world is waiting eagerly for Wednesday, November 4. That's when Chrysler will release the detailed product and business plan that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne promises will take the company to profitability within two years.
Now comes the rumor that the two companies plan to build an electric car together. And much of the discussion centers around an electric version of the upcoming 2011 Fiat 500 mini-car, which will be built at a Chrysler plant in Mexico in little more than a year.
Micro-Vett electric Fiat 500 from NICE Car Company, 2008 London Motor Show
Micro-Vett electric Fiat 500
Micro-Vett electric Fiat 500
But many commentators don't realize that such a car has existed for more than a year, at least in prototype form. The Micro-Vett electric Fiat 500 was shown in July 2008 at the London Motor Show, and your faithful correspondent even got some photos of it.
75-mile range, 60-mph top speed
The company literature says the Micro-Vett 500 has a 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion Kokam battery pack, giving a range of up to 75 miles and a top speed of 60 miles per hour (though probably not at the same time).
That's not particularly strong, but then this is a converted gasoline-engined car, rather than a purpose-built electric car like the 2012 Nissan Leaf or the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.
Long list of Fiat 500 options
Much of the base Fiat 500 carries over, including--oddly--the 5-speed gearbox, which you really shouldn't need for an electric car, although perhaps it made the conversion easier to keep it.
The Micro-Vett e500 has a lengthy list of standard equipment, including radio/CD/MP3 player, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, air conditioning, central locking, and a full complement of airbags.
Options include electronic stability control, automatic climate control, an electric sunroof, reversing sensors, 16-inch alloy wheels, and metallic paint. The pricing (ahem) was steep in the summer of 2008: £25,000, or about $39,500 for an outright purchase.
Not NICE enough?
The car was shown in London by the NICE Car Company, although the vehicle is no longer shown on the company's website. Each e500 was to have been built to order in Italy by Micro-Vett; given the global collapse in auto sales, it's easy to imagine it found few buyers at that price.
NICE stands for "No Internal Combustion Engine" (cute, huh?), and it's one of several companies that provide all-electric cars to buyers who want to escape London's congestion tax, which is waived for zero-emission vehicles.
Electric cars, or more efficient engines?
Whether the combination of Fiat and Chrysler sees any value in the Micro-Vett conversion is an open question. Fiat's green and gas-saving technologies revolve less around electric vehicles than its small cars and MultiAir electric valve technology, which it will fit to future Chryslers.
And Chrysler has its ENVI electric vehicle group, although it has changed executives and been remarkably quiet since the takeover.
Precedent from Ford
Still, we think an electric Fiat 500 makes more sense than the converted electric Chrysler Town & Country minivan and Jeep Patriot crossover that ENVI showed off last year, or their Dodge Circuit EV two-seat performance car (which is a Lotus Europa underneath).
There's even precedent for using an outside conversion. Ford's first electric vehicle in North America will be a version of its 2011 Transit Connect light commercial van that's based on a conversion done for several years in the UK by Smith Electric Vehicles.