Dull Display of Electric Cars at Italy's Bologna Motor Show

By · December 07, 2011

The Tokyo motor show is grabbing all the headlines, but there was another large auto show which opened last week: Bologna. This is the largest motor show in Italy. It got more than 800,000 visitors last year, and that makes it as successful as the Los Angeles motor show. Electric cars have their own hall, as they did last year, complete with an indoor test area. Last year, around 6,000 visitors test drove an electric car there, but the organizers are confident there should be even more this year. To that end, the track has been renewed and was much better than before—you could drive faster. Unfortunately, there wasn't a single new model in sight.

Electric cars driving a purpose-built indoor track at the Bologna motor show

Electric cars driving a purpose-built indoor track at the Bologna motor show

Every electric car on display in Bologna had already been seen elsewhere. The most worrying fact (for Italians) was the absence of Fiat on the EV scene. You may have heard about an electric Fiat 500 somewhere, but there were no sign of it in Bologna. Maybe it will be sold only in America. Actually, there was an electric Fiat 500, but it wasn't built by Fiat. It's a gas car that had been converted by Micro-Vett, a small Italian company which specializes in electric conversions with several decades of experience. The result was only average—I drove it. The converted Fiat 500 lacked the overall refinement you find in a Nissan LEAF, or even a Mitsubishi i. Conversion and low volume production also mean high prices.

Electric Fiat 500 built by Micro-Vett

Electric Fiat 500 built by Micro-Vett

Sadly, Italy has lost its leadership in EV technology. The time when Italy was showing the world what an EV can do is long gone. Who remembers the Bertone prototype which was the first electric car to drive at 300 kph (186-mph)? The purpose-built streamlined prototype established that record in 1995. Italians were also leading the world bringing that technology to the street. There have been electric mini-buses in service for more than 15 years in Florence. But we're still waiting for an Italian EV with the latest lithium-ion cells and a high performance regenerative braking. Maybe next year?

In the meantime, there were still plenty of EVs to see at the show—even one from America. The Ford Focus Electric was there, though it's not expected to be available in Italy before 2013. There were several electric Volvo C30s, which were available for test drives, but a regular production version is not expected in this generation of the C30. Several Thinks were also available, with molten-salt batteries, not the Ener1 cells they have in the U.S.—one of them had its roof covered with solar cells. Too bad, the test track was indoors.

Electric Smart car with Italian lady

Electric Smart car with Italian lady

The electric Smart was a show favorite one more time, as the gasoline model is very popular in Italian cities. The electric model will be available next spring, at a price of 24,200 euros ($32,450) with VAT included. Note that a base Toyota Prius costs 27,200 ($36,473) there. An interesting idea is that there is a way to get the car for less by leasing the battery. The electric Smart will then cost 19,939 euros ($26,737) and 65.34 euros each month for the battery ($87.62). Maybe leasing the battery will convince some people who do not trust electric car technology? I don't know, but what I know for sure is that if you would ask any Italian what was the best car at the show, the unanimous answer would be the new Ferrari 599XX Evolution.

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