Technically, the new Fiat 500e electric vehicle will make its formal debut at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show later this month, but since the electro-Cinquecento will also appear alongside the "green carpet" of the American Music Awards this weekend, Fiat decided to release a few images ahead of schedule.
Fiat first teased an electric-powered Fiat at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. That concept, which wore bodywork cribbed from the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth, allegedly utilized a 100-hp electric motor to drive the front wheels. Chrysler remained relatively mum on the subject, but whispers suggested lithium-ion battery packs gave the little Fiat EV a 100-mile range. In March of 2010, Chrysler confirmed its powertrain teams were developing the 500 EV into a full-fledged production vehicle for North America, and aimed to push it into series production at the close of 2012.
At this stage, Fiat is staying mum on driveline details, but we can see the production-ready 500e does receive a few cosmetic tweaks, mostly in the name of reducing drag and improving range. Although it doesn't use an Abarth-spec front fascia, the 500e's bumper is taller than a stock 500, allowing it to use a lowered front splitter. Its lower grille insert, painted bright white to match the mirror caps, boasts an unusual bubble pattern, which is also used on the car's bespoke side sills. The 500e also gains a roof spoiler and unique five-spoke wheels, which boast narrow openings in order to cheat the wind.
Interior revisions appear to be equally restrained. The 500's analog gauge cluster is replaced by a configurable liquid crystal display, much like that used on top-tier 2013 Dodge Dart models. Fiat also did away with a conventional shifter, instead mounting a push-button gear selector in the same space. This particular 500e appears to use an interesting tri-tone interior scheme (white seating, steering wheel, door panels, dash trim, and center console) with accents color-matched to its bright orange exterior paint.
Fiat hasn't announced pricing, but we expect it to be somewhat expensive -- especially for Chrysler itself. Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has previously indicated the automaker expects to lose roughly $10,000 on each 500e it builds. Why pursue such a project that's certain to hemorrhage cash? Because California mandates require automakers of a certain size to sell a minimum number of zero-emission vehicles in the state -- and no, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and other partial-zero-emission vehicles (PZEVs) don't count towards that total.
Subsequently, the 2013 500e will only be sold in California -- and possibly a limited number of states that follow in California's footsteps -- starting in early 2013. Expect further details, including battery specifications, range and MPGe figures, and pricing, to be announced during the car's L.A. debut.