Future Cars

The Fiat Centoventi Is a Cheap Electric Done Cool

This thing is packed full of innovative design and materials.

Fiat turns 120 years old this year and is celebrating a century-plus spent mastering the ABCs of cheap transportation: Affordable But Cool. Its fully electric Concept Centoventi (that’s “120” in Italian) explores innovative new ways of achieving cool affordability throughout the car—from the underfloor battery right up and out to the single paint color and standard open roof.

Let’s start with the battery. Suppose your daily needs are met by a cheap 60-mile battery 90 percent of the time, but occasionally you need to go farther. The Centoventi’s modular battery system allows three additional 60-mile modular battery packs to click in place on underbody rails as needed; a fourth extra can be mounted under the driver’s seat. That battery pack can be pulled out and charged in your home (or more likely in a motel or someone else’s home where a charger isn’t easily accessible). These batteries can be purchased or rented, expanding range to 300 miles.

Henry Ford saved a boatload by painting all Model Ts black. The main panels of all Centoventi will be painted one color (perhaps silver). But an innovative 4U program would allow customers to personalize their cars with a choice of four roofs, four bumpers, four wheel covers, and four external wrap colors, and these can be quickly changed at any point during the ownership experience. Roof options include a two-color polycarbonate top, a fold-back canvas soft top, an integrated cargo box, and even a roof integrating a solar panel that can generate 50 watts to keep the car cool when it’s parked. There are also auxiliary racks available for surfboards, skis, etc.

The customization options really get interesting inside, where the standard 10.0-inch display can be flanked by a device holder that mounts your phone or tablet next to the dash for navigation and/or infotainment control. Or spring for the full 20.0-inch Lingotto display, named for the test track on the roof of Fiat’s Turin plant that its shape approximates. This one includes a forward-facing screen for displaying car-sharing messages, and it’s another upgrade that can be added after purchase.

The dash is design with a meshwork of holes into which accessories can be plugged—sunglass holders, GoPro mounts, bottle holders, etc. Likewise, taking inspiration from refrigerator door storage, the door panels can be customized with storage pockets, bottle holders, and audio speakers as desired. The front passenger seat is designed to be easily removed and replaced with a front- or rear-facing child seat, a pet carrier, or any other stowage or utility device. And speaking of the seats, their minimalist design features a novel plastic produced using a new, patented production process involving a material formulated from polyolefin resins that end up three times lighter than traditional molded plastics and can be colored in the mold. It’s even antimicrobial! The “3D Knit” fabric is made from recycled yarns, a technology borrowed from sneakers and other technical sports garments.

Another fun exterior option is a tailgate message board that allows owners to broadcast their own messages to others or sell the space to local retailers for advertising. The solar panel can power this device when the car is parked. FCA’s Mopar accessories subsidiary will aid in sales and distribution of most of the aforementioned accessories, most of which can be owner-installed. (Dealers must handle installation of the bumpers, polycarbonate roof, body wraps, Lingotto instrument cluster, batteries, and digital tailgate.) Or maybe you’d prefer to print out some accessories at home using your 3-D printer—this is sure to be a popular way for third-party entrepreneurs to distribute dash- and door-panel-mount accessories of their own design.

Color us sold on the cool factor of this affordable electric. Build it and take our (minimal amount of) money!

Buying Guide
Powered by Motortrend