The great thing about having your company headquartered in Palo Alto, California, is that you never quite know what you'll see on the street.

There are lots of expensive cars like BMWs and Bentleys floating around. There are also a disproportionate number of Tesla Roadsters, since the company is based in Silicon Valley.

But sometimes you get something even more unexpected.

We received this photo of an electric Fiat 500 that was snapped while it was driving around downtown Palo Alto. It parked in front of our local Starbucks, with two men inside and a Michigan manufacturer plate on the rear.

How'd the photographer know it was electric? First, it's silent; second, the front license plate says "Elletra" (that's Italian for "electric") in the same script used on the car when it appeared at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show.

A couple of months ago, Chrysler announced it would build an electric version of the 500 for the U.S. market. The powertrain will be developed by engineers at its Michigan headquarters.

The Fiat 500 EV will go into production in 2012, perhaps as a 2013 model, at a price that Chrysler calls "competitive with similar electric vehicles in the market."

By that time, the market will offer several electric cars, including the 2010 Tesla Roadster, the 2011 Nissan Leaf, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, the 2011 Coda Sedan, the 2011 Fisker Karma, and the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

So what was it doing in Palo Alto?

Well, many automakers have advanced technology outlets in Silicon Valley. (BMW's in particular is well-known for the world's first iPod integration in a vehicle.) There's also a growing base of EV engineers.

Perhaps Chrysler and Fiat hope to draw on some of that expertise. Or perhaps they're talking to third-party engineering shops like Atieva. Either way, we're sure they had a full schedule of appointments.

The standard 2011 Fiat 500 will land in selected Chrysler dealers by the end of this year. It will be built in Mexico and powered by a 1.4-liter gasoline engine that will be used in future new Chrysler compact vehicles as well.