Fiat and Nissan Spar Over EV Aesthetics

By · December 07, 2012

Fiat 500e and Nissan LEAF

Fiat and Nissan each see art in their small electric cars, and ugliness in the competition.

What is it about electric cars that drives rival car companies to one another’s throats?

The latest verbal sparring comes between Nissan and Fiat, after Fiat’s director of product marketing, Matt Davis, took an implied shot at the LEAF earlier this week at a launch event for the Fiat 500e. "Let's be honest, ugliness is probably one of the worst forms of pollution," said Davis. "The Fiat 500e proves that you do not have to give up on good looks to deliver an electric car."

Simon Sproule, Nissan’s head of global marketing, counterpunched a day later. "Let's face it. Fiat has not shied away from controversial styling themselves,” Sproule said to Automotive News Europe. “Many would describe many of their products as visual pollution. Take a long, hard look at the Fiat Doblo."

Okay, so maybe the recent spat between Nissan and Fiat over vehicle styling is closer to a carefully considered PR stunt than a bar fight. Still, Fiat and Nissan are by no means the first pair of companies to go at it over plug-ins.

When the LEAF was first released it came on the heels of months of barb trading between Nissan and GM over which technology would reign supreme: the Volt’s plug-in hybrid architecture or the LEAFs all-electric design. Chevy ran ads subtly denigrating the LEAF’s limited driving range, and even went so far as to copyright the term “range anxiety,” (presumably for use in future marketing efforts.) Meanwhile, Nissan ran ads starring the Volt itself as an object of buyer’s remorse, chiding the car for its reliance on gas stations.

Fiat-owned carmaker Chrysler was also involved in a controversy back in 2010, when the protagonist of the movie, The Dilemma, called electric cars “gay,” before going on to extol the virtues of Dodge muscle cars. The movie featured a healthy share of Chrysler-oriented product placement, though the carmaker refused reveal the nature of its financial arrangement with the filmmakers. Did Chrysler pay to have the line included in the film as a way of attacking GM? We may never know.

Shooting One's Own Foot

What we have learned in the almost two years that plug-ins have been a part of the mass auto market is that they are a lightning rod for controversy and derision. For a carmaker like Fiat, electric vehicles represent a challenge to the status quo—one that Fiat has been very successful operating in.

Fiat has become one of Europe’s leading carmakers largely by producing smaller, city-friendly vehicles. Plug-ins are also well suited to this purpose, though Fiat has little interest in seriously competing in the electrified vehicle market. The 500e is, by Fiat’s own admission, a compliance car that wouldn’t have made it to the drafting table if not for California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne proclaimed last year that “the economics of EVs simply don’t work,” complaining that his company would lose $10,000 for every 500e it sells.

While it may currently be true that few drivers can expect to save money over the long term by buying an electric vehicle, that won’t necessarily be the case in five or ten years. Over the long term—and success in the auto business is most certainly all about the long term—Fiat’s refusal to seriously consider mass electric vehicle production is just as much of a gamble as Nissan’s decision to dive head first into the market. Like most braggarts and bullies, Fiat’s eagerness to disparage plug-ins likely comes more from a place of insecurity than pure mean-spiritedness.

Still, one can’t help but admit that the 500e has undeniable charisma. It sort of makes you wonder how popular Fiat’s small EV could become if Fiat actually wanted it to succeed.


· focus_ev (not verified) · 5 years ago

It's a shame that manufacturers of EV's have to market themselves by bashing other EV makers products. Most of the existing EV's are useful for commuter cars, and more. EV's are not for longer trips (unless a lot of visits happen on the way), but as other have said, rent a car. EV's are not for everyone, but for those of us that can use them, they are great.

"The economics of EV's don't work," may be true for the manufacturers as posted by others on this site, or if one is only using the car for a small number of miles per week. For those that only keep a car for 3 to 5 years, and for those that don't buy $25,000 and pricier new cars, this may be true, too. For those who drive 150 miles or more in a week, or in my case, at least 300 miles a week, the economics of an EV do work. It's a choice between paying for gas during the whole time one owns a car, or paying more of the money up front. With an EV there will be lower maintenance costs with no oil changes, no muffler to replace, no tuneups, less frequent brake repair, etc.

· Modern Marvel Fan (not verified) · 5 years ago

I would take a Leaf over Fiat 500e any day.

In fact, I will take the upcoming Chevy Spark EV over the Fiat 500e as well.

· · 5 years ago

"Ugliness is the worst form of Pollution." ??? !!! They are actually paying this guy?

· · 5 years ago

Yeah, that one had me scratching my head as well. As far as I know, nobody's ever gotten asthma or cancer from looking at a car. Yet another reminder of just how seriously the friendly folks at Fiat take vehicle emissions!

· 9691 (not verified) · 5 years ago

Oh, figurative speech can be very expressive and I like this one. What I don't understand is why he decided to refer to the Leaf with that. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

· iletric (not verified) · 5 years ago

Since 500e is a much simpler car then its ICE counterpart, it actually may help Fiat to shed its American moniker: Fix It Again Tony.

So, Fiat, and by extension, Chrysler need to shut up about being arm-twisted to produce a BEV, and go take a long walk on short Arctic ice.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

I enjoy my leaf and those who dont see the "economics" probably went top the same schools as our financial leaders and bankers.

· · 5 years ago

Yes, the little 500e has a cuteness factor that the Leaf doesn't. But one can step into a Nissan dealership just about anywhere and lease or buy an electric car from them that has been produced in the tens of thousands worldwide.

How many electric Fiats are there? A handful that are currently getting trailered around to car shows? How many are scheduled to be produced in the near future? A couple thousands over the next couple of years that will only be sold in California? C'mon!

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad some of the more persistent Chrysler engineers persuaded Sergio Marchionne to join the 21st century. The EV world also needs a cute little retro-styled 2-door that doesn't have typical econobox looks. But, until they make these things generally available and we see how well engineered the battery pack is (quite literally: can it handle an Arizona summer?) then I wish they'd start building and selling . . . and stop bragging until then. We also haven't seen a retail price announced yet.

· Iletric (not verified) · 5 years ago

And here are the details:

· Iletric (not verified) · 5 years ago

And here are the details:

· · 5 years ago

Thanks, iiectric. My eyes glazed over just a bit reading through all of this. I can't remember how many coats of hand-buffed acrylic lacquer were sprayed onto the bezel of the cigarette lighter, or the number of ribs embossed into the rubber protector surrounding the brake pedal, but I'm sure it's all mentioned in there somewhere. More germane to the all-important battery and its relationship to the drivetrain, here are various quotes from your source regarding that item . . .

"FIAT 500e buyers, empowerment starts with a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery that energizes a 111 horsepower (83 kW), permanent-magnet, three-phase synchronous drive-motor. Dubbed "e-Drive" and showcased by a studded, logo-adorned "engine cover," it generates 147 lb.-ft. (200 N•m) of peak torque – all of which is available at tip-in."

"The high-voltage battery is housed in the floor of the 500e. It serves both the eDrive motor and vehicle systems, such as HVAC and other electrical accessories tied to the 12-volt battery. Comprising 97 individual cells, the battery features a power-management system designed to monitor and adjust current, cell voltage and operating temperature – conditions that are critical to safety and life expectancy.

A stout capacity to handle charge/discharge cycles is backed by an eight-year warranty, which covers the entire battery.

The battery's thermal-management system maintains optimal operating temperatures, which maximizes driving range and minimizes recharging times – less than 4 hours with its Level 2 (240-volt) on-board charging module (OBCM) and 24 hours via Level 1 (120-volt) when fully depleted.

The system supplements passive cooling by circulating through the high-voltage battery a blend of ethylene glycol and corrosion inhibitors. This ensures consistent cell-to-cell temperature and boosts battery life."

· · 5 years ago

For me, the aerodynamic drag matters much more than the aesthetics, and form follows function. Both the 500e and the Leaf could use lower Cd's and a lot of that comes from a crisp Kammback with a taper on the top and sides and a bit of taper on the underside. Smooth flat wheels and wheel strakes and smoother sides, too.

Sleek looking and lower drag = longer range with better looks = better sales.


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