Q&A: Fiat president Olivier Francois discusses the new electric 500

Fiat’s iconic 500 city car has been given a makeover, with an electric version joining the line-up next year.

It has a new look and a new design, and will be sold alongside the existing model. Ahead of the first media drives, Fiat president Olivier Francois and other senior staff had a virtual sit down with journalists to discuss the future of the Fiat brand and what to expect from the new EV.

Question: A quirky 3+1 500e, which has one ‘suicide door’ for right rear passengers to enter more easily, has been confirmed for left-hand-drive markets. Is it coming to the UK?

Answer: It has not yet been confirmed, but can we technically make one? It will be with the rear-opening door on the driver’s side for the UK, but yes, we could make one.

We have to decide, though, because it is an investment, which is fine, but we have to know the demand is there for the UK market. We have seen it has not been so popular with the Mini [Clubman], but we could do it fast.

I will speak to my colleague after this about the possibilities so we will see.

Question: How will the new 500 be sold alongside the previous generation?

Answer: The old one will be called Classic, but it will be our job to convince buyers to move to the electric model. We know they are urban customers and we think buyers are so in love with the ‘brand within the brand’, so they will check out the new one.

We have 12,000 pre-orders for the new 500, not all of those will necessarily go through to purchases, though I hope they will! But we’ve seen only 14 per cent come across from the regular 500, we’re not sure why, we’re not even sure if it’s a good thing! But we’ve seen a lot of conquest, perhaps because Tesla is great, but customers haven’t found an equivalent in the compact car segment. There is a need for an electric sexy urban city car that hasn’t been fulfilled.

New Fiat 500
New Fiat 500

Question: You have talked a lot about car sharing and peer-to-peer technology with this new 500 – has being conscious of future mobility changed the way you built the car?

Answer: Yes, I think it would actually be interesting to look after this discussion, to see how many people worked on software and how many on the physical car, because we worked very hard on the software and the apps.

Car sharing is going to be pushed, particularly with the entry-level model, which has been specifically built for the younger generation. The smartphone ownership model is something to bear in mind for this car.

The criteria for success will be our ability to explain that this is not just a nice car, there are so many ways to own it. EVs are expensive, we know that, we did our utmost to not make it expensive, but it is more expensive than an equivalent [non-electric model]. So it’s important to come up with a way to bridge the gap.

Question: How have retailers been prepared for the introduction of this new model?

Answer: We started preparing dealers a long time ago with the Fiat brands and other brands in our group, starting with the plug-in hybrid Jeep and continuing with the Fiat 500e.

We strongly believe that if our customers are pleased with the electric driving experience then they will be happy buying one. So we’ve taught dealers how to explain simply the benefit of electric vehicle ownership.

We’ve also provided all the training possible to our dealers and customers on the Fiat website, training them on electric – it’s not just about the 500, it’s about providing the tools needed to understand the electric world and make people accustomed to it. It’s also about the bigger picture, such as building relationships with energy providers.