At one time or another, many have seen compact cars driven by college students and hipsters. These types of cars are affordable, manageable, and do not require heavy maintenance. But the 2013 Fiat 500e is more than just a simple mini car; the appearance itself may be a turn-off to many car aficionados, but it has enough horsepower and torque to back up its small stature.
The electric powertrain comprises three components – a Power Inverter Module to provide fuel to the vehicle, a lithium-ion battery pack, and a high-powered electric motor. The vehicle comes equipped with “an 83-kW electric-drive motor that delivers 111 HP and 147 lb-ft of torque,” according to Fiat’s (OTC: FIATY) website.
The charge time varies on the charger; a level one charger will fully charge in less than 24 hours, while the level two will bring about an empty to full charge in less than four hours.
The heavy battery pack is centered in the ground floor, keeping the car weighty and well balanced. The grounded nature of the car will also prevent the car from being flung around like a children’s toy in case an accident occurs. The ground level of the vehicle is also elevated to accommodate the battery – something that will alleviate buyers’ concerns about speed bumps.
The 87-mileage charge is nothing to get excited about, but the 500e does have a program where owners and leaseholders can rent a standard vehicle for longer trips.
The Nissan (OTC: NSANY) Leaf has a 75-mile charge, but the four-door seating will make it more appealing to people with frequent backseat passengers. The lithium-ion batteries for the 500e and Leaf pretty much stack up in the same caliber, both being 24 kWh, but when looking at horsepower and torque, the Leaf has 187 lb-ft of torque and 107 HP.
And the charge time for the Nissan Leaf is not a far stretch from the 500e.
But the 500e has the advantage over Nissan in the area of price incentives.
On the surface, the Nissan appears to have Fiat beaten in price range, going for $21,300 for the lower-priced Nissan Leaf S in Canada, but the Fiat sticker price of $31,800 comes with a variety of benefits.
After rebates and tax incentives, consumers can get as much as $14,000 shaved off the standard price, amounting to only $17,800 for California residents. For now, the 500e is restricted to California.
Leaseholders for the 500e can get a payment plan of $199/mo for 36 months, with $999 due up front as a down payment.
The Leaf has a similar $199 lease plan, but $1,999 is due at signing.
But Nissan is technically savvier than the Fiat, with a built-in navigation system.
Tesla’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) luxury Model S has both the Nissan and Fiat beaten by a long shot when it comes to elasticity, with 320 miles on a one-hour charge. The payment plan, however, amounts to $580/mo, and the $62,400 (post tax credits) price tag is beyond the budgets of many people.
But this isn’t to say Tesla is not competitive in its own right; it does come with a $300/mo lease plan for those using the vehicle for business purposes, and there is no down payment for leasing. And the look of the Model S has a better chance of appealing to people otherwise not keen on electric cars.
Tesla also has a special program where an additional Model S will be given to customers in the event of repairs, and the customer has the option of purchasing the newer model car by paying the difference.
The Fiat 500e will most likely appeal to college students and younger people with some disposable income.
To the cost-conscious and environmentally aware consumer, the 500e does have the slight edge. If all goes well in the sales department, Fiat is considering branching out the vehicle in the national market.
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Investors should keep a lookout for the 500e to see how well it performs in the California market. It is more stylish than most compact cars, and there are additional benefits such as an after-hours support center.
But Tesla is currently getting the most buzz in the EV market, with its Model S receiving stellar reviews among critics and consumers. Motor Trend named it the best car of 2013. And Tesla recently paid off all its loan debt to the Department of Energy.
CEO Elon Musk has come a long way – from a relatively unknown CEO struggling in the EV market to being hailed as a real-life Tony Stark by the press.
But Musk is going through some legal battles in various states because of his company’s direct selling program and his refusal to rely on state dealerships. Recently, a pro-Musk bill failed to come up for a vote in the state legislature, and other state dealerships around the country show no sign of letting up.
But Tesla is becoming a trendsetter, making EVs more profound in the mind of mainline consumers. The Model S is setting a precedent where luxury-type vehicles in the EV market will become more commonplace and a tad more reachable to people in the price department.
Tesla will debut its Model X in 2014 – a luxury type EV with a blend of SUV and mini-van features.
Drivers and investors looking for a current EV vehicle with back-room storage space should look to the Ford (NYSE: F) Focus Electric. It has the same four-door capacity as the Nissan Leaf, and it is one of the more eye-catching EVs on the market. It will appeal to environmental purists, with its 100% recyclable fabric seating and the cushioning comprised of plant seed oils and bio-based foam.
But the price tag is $39,200, or $284/mo for a 36-month lease with $929 due at signing.
While the Ford Focus Electric may be something that will appeal to the environmentally aware mom on the go, the Fiat 500e is a good deal for people who want a mixture of quality and competitive pricing.
We’ll see if the 500e has the potential to engage the national market.
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