60% of Fiat’s car models will be “electrified” — either conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or full electric — by the end of next year, according to a presentation by the company’s European brand chief Luca Napolitano reported by Reuters. Napolitano claims that this is “better than the market average.”
While many companies have been making similar commitments, often using the weasel word “electrify” that includes conventional hybrids that still rely entirely on petroleum for movement, Fiat’s commitments are notable, considering their recent history as EV opponents, formerly headed by Sergio Marchionne, who was a famously anti-EV figure.
While Fiat Chrysler owns many other brands, Napolitano’s announcement applied only to Fiat’s models.
Fiat’s model line is not that expansive — it largely covers various configurations of their popular 500 hatchback model, including L X and C models. Fiat also offers the 124 Spider, a two-seat roadster convertible; the Tipo and Panda, both small city cars; the Qubo, a compact van; and the Doblo, a larger van. Including the “New 500” electric. This list covers about 10 models.
So we can expect six “electrified” models, but those will likely almost all be hybrids, such as the upcoming 500 and Panda hybrids.
The coming “New 500” is Fiat’s only slated full electric model, a rebirth of the popular Fiat 500e. This car earned a lot of sales in some markets due to its very low price — at some points, in California, it could be leased for under $100/mo. But Fiat was often cynical about the 500e’s existence, with former boss Sergio Marchionne discouraging sales as he (likely inaccurately) stated that the company loses $14,000 on every 500e they sell.
Marchionne also stated, as recently as three years ago, that “electrification is not the answer.” Going from that stance in 2017 to electrifying 60% of its model line by the end of 2021 is quite a change for Fiat.
Notably this announcement only covers Fiat’s model lineup, not their overall sales.Fiat is not committing to 60% of sales being hybrid models by the end of 2021, just availability of hybrids across 60% of their car models. Currently somewhere around a fifth of European car sales are “electrified,” and under 5% of US sales are. If 60% of Fiat’s sales were electrified — even if they were mostly hybrids — that would be an extremely high number in the current auto market.
This is not the only electrification promise we’ve heard from Fiat recently. Maserati also announced electrification of its entire lineup recently, and that brand, too, had opposed electrification until very recently.
We’ve been skeptical of Fiat for quite some time, especially under the past reign of Marchionne. Since then, they’ve been making some big statements about electrification, including this one, but some of those have smacked of greenwashing.
Maybe Fiat is changing for the better, but its use of the word “electrification” is still cause for concern. Given that hybrid vehicles still run 100% on gasoline — they get none of their energy from any other source than from burning oil — hybrid vehicles may reduce our oil use by some percentage, but they won’t eliminate it. So it doesn’t make a ton of sense to place hybrids in the same group as plug-in hybrids, which can run on renewable sources for daily use, and as electric cars that do not rely on oil at all for locomotion.