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My neighbor rolled up on a brand new Fiat 500. We were sitting on the porch when he parked, got out, looked at us, and said, “Like it? It’s electric!”

The year was 2015. The location, Palo Alto, California. And yes, this is a true story.

You may have seen Fiat’s announcement of the upcoming all electric 500e. This EV coupe features all-new styling and is built on Stellantis’ new electric chassis. It makes 117 horsepower and offers 149 miles of range. Best of all, it starts at $32,500. It is one of many models that Stellantis (Dodge, Jeep, Fiat, and others) are offering as part of their new electric lineup. But it is a decade late to be their first electric car. Or even their first electric Fiat 500e.

In July 2008, Fiat unveiled an electric 500 at the London Motor Show in 2008. This was a one-off concept built by Micro-Vett and didn’t go anywhere. But then Fiat brought out another BEV version of the 500 at the Detroit Auto Show. At the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, we got a look at the production version. This one had a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery and electric motors by Bosch. It made 111 horsepower and could do about 80 miles of range on the highway. In stop-go city driving it might hit 100 miles. And Fiat sold it until 2019.

Red Fiat 500e at an auto show
2013 Fiat 500e | Norbert Aipli via Wikimedia Commons

Why did you never see an electric Fiat 500? Because the company only sold them in California and Oregon. And it only sold them there because Dodge/Fiat needed to have an electric option on the dealer lot to sell any vehicles. That’s right, Fiat didn’t even offer an electric 500e at home in Europe.

The Fiat 500e was just one car in a generation of forgotten electric cars only available in California. There was Volkswagen’s e-Golf and BMWs electric Mini Cooper. Every automaker needed one to stay in business, even if it only offered 80 miles of range. In fact, many of them had the exact same Bosch drive units and very similar batteries.

My neighbor kept his Fiat 500e for several years. But it proved…quirky. The entire battery pack was centered over the rear axle. There was so much weight back there that our local mechanic was unable to give it a proper alignment. Instead the rear tires always had an absurd negative camber and wore rapidly on the inside. I can’t imagine the steering and braking were ideal either. A coworker of mine actually bought the e-Golf of the same era and had it “break down,” flashing a blue screen of death and locking up the wheels because of a software glitch.

If the automakers had made enough of these first EVs to sell in every state, they might have sunk a bit more in to R&D. But as it was, the Fiat 500e and its California-only peers were a series of half-baked early EVs. That said, the automakers likely learned valuable lessons and my experience with the latest generation of EVs has been much better. I’m sure the 2024 Fiat 500e will be a much more refined vehicle. But I’m not surprised Fiat is not bragging much about its original 500e as it launches this second one.

You can see the 2013 Fiat 500e reviewed in the video below: