Chrysler announced yesterday that the company will build an electric version of the Fiat 500 for the U.S. market.

This is a new direction for Chrysler, which scrapped its ENVI program for plug-in vehicles, including the  Dodge Circuit electric sports car, a few months ago. With this announcement, Chrysler once again becomes a player in the plug-in scene.

The Fiat 500 EV points to a new role for Chrysler, now that it is part of the Fiat group. According to the Chrysler press release, the Fiat 500 EV is intended to "demonstrate the immediate benefits of the alliance between the Chrysler Group and the Fiat Group," and show "the speed at which the two companies can work together on advanced vehicle programs."

The companies are committed to promoting "zero-emission transportation and the development of an electric-vehicle charging infrastructure," and they plan to announce other relevant partnerships in the near future.

In terms of technical specifics, not much is known yet. Chrysler has said that the Fiat 500 EV will feature a "high power electric powertrain module, an advanced lithium ion battery, and an EV control unit to manage power flows."

When shown at the 2010 DC Auto Show last January, the Electric Fiat 500 concept vehicle featured a 100-mile range and traveled 0 to 60 miles in 5.6 seconds. It is unclear, however, whether the production model will have the same technical capacity.

According to a Chrysler spokesman quoted on GreenCarReports, the specifications of the 500 BEV concept shown at auto shows should not be viewed as reflective of a production vehicle.

Production date is set for 2012 for the U.S. market. Pricing for the vehicle is set to be announced closer to launch, but will be "competitive with similar electric vehicles in the market." It is possible that the Fiat 500 EV will be in a similar class as the 2011 Nissan Leaf or the Think City EV, both of which feature an all-electric range of 100 miles.

This is a very promising direction for Chrysler and, if successful, can help revive the Chrysler brand once again.

Shannon Arvizu is a clean-tech strategist and educator at Columbia University. For more info, visit www.misselectric.com.