Italian auto brand Fiat bringing 500 Minicar back to US in reprise of electric flop

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Fiat, the Italian car brand owned by Stellantis NV, said it will bring the 500e, an electric version of its urban minicar, back to North America in 2024, roughly three years after it yanked the model from US dealerships.

The Fiat 500e, which is currently made at its Mirafiori plant in Turin, Italy, has been doing well in Europe -- it was the third best-seller in the region through September, behind the Tesla Model Y and Model 3, according to researcher Jato Dynamics.

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Fiat plans to show the US production version next fall, with sales starting in early 2024, according to an announcement from Olivier Francois, the global head of the Fiat brand, scheduled for the Los Angeles auto show on Thursday.

Stellantis, formed from the 2021 merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA Group, is plowing 30 billion euros (nearly $31.2 billion) into electric cars and software, and targeting more than 75 fully-electric models by 2030. Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares has pledged to give each of his 14 auto brands enough resources to launch new product lineups and prove their mettle in the marketplace.

The electric push is a dramatic shift from the tenure of Sergio Marchionne, the late CEO of Fiat Chrysler, who revived the automaker by growing the Jeep and Ram brands, but pooh-poohed electric vehicles as money-losers.

Embracing big trucks

Marchionne reintroduced Fiat to the US market in 2011 after a 30-year absence with a splashy ad campaign and standalone stores.

He bet the 500 could compete with the UK’s Mini Cooper while satisfying a pledge to the Obama administration to sell Americans on more fuel-efficient cars.

But cheap gas prices reignited Americans’ love of big trucks and SUVs, and sales of the stylish subcompact peaked in 2014. Fiat Chrysler, which chronically struggled to meet federal fuel economy rules, sold an electric version that Marchionne once complained lost him as much as $20,000 per unit.

Fiat’s only model in the US currently is the gas-powered Fiat 500X, a compact crossover.

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