The same thing happened with iPhone adoption in 2007. When the iPhone went on sale on June 29, 2007, adoption was not uniform across the country or even inside California. In the first weeks, it was already a big product in Silicon Valley, whereas the rest of the country and the world caught up in the next few years. If the explosive growth in U.S. electric car sales continues at the percentage rates it grew in 2011, 2012 and likely 2013, there will be millions of electric vehicles on U.S. roads within a decade. Fiat-Chrysler probably doesn't want to cede this opportunity by being viewed as a luddite company in Silicon Valley. Although Fiat-Chrysler may be using Nvidia CPUs and GPUs for design-engineering and infotainment in future years, that's not nearly enough. It is against this backdrop that Fiat-Chrysler is making its first bet on the electric car market in California. It's even going so far as to establish an electric car distribution center in the San Francisco Bay area, which will be deliver all configurations (colors, trims and options) to area dealers within 24-48 hours. In addition, it establishing a second such distribution center in the Los Angeles area, where some electric cars are also sold.
The Fiat 500e is a straightforward electric car, making it drive similarly to EVs such as the Nissan ( NSANY) LEAF, Ford ( F) Focus and Chevrolet Volt. The basic drivetrain ensures that these cars have far far more in common than not. In Fiat's case, the battery cells are made by Samsung, and Bosch delivers most of the drivetrain modules, including the whole battery pack and the electric motor. Fiat then integrates the hardware and the software, calibrates it, and produces the whole package in its Mexico plant together with the regular gasoline Fiat 500 models. The battery has a gross capacity of 24 kWh -- the same as the Nissan LEAF but more than the Ford's 23 kWh -- but the usable portion is as high as 22.8 kWh, a far higher percentage than anything else I've seen as a standard charging mode, which in this car is the only mode. The battery sits in the floor, from the front of the front seats all the way to the rear "axle." It adds 600 pounds of weight to the tiny car, yielding a total of 2,950 pounds, but it also shifts the weight distribution from 63% front to 53% front. Together with the lowered center of gravity, this significantly improves handling, which I found to be excellent. The low weight helps contribute an an EPA-certified average range of 87 miles, which is better than its closest competitors, the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric. The soon-to-arrive Chevrolet Spark EV may come close to this number; we shall see.