Freshly washed Fiat 500e
Me and My Fiat 500e
By Bill Moore
It only took 20 years for EV World's founder and publisher to buy a pure electric car. Here's what he bought and why.
I finally bought an electric car. Over the last two decades, I’ve owned two hybrids and four electric-assist bicycles. Now, more than twenty years after starting EVWorld.com, the world has become EV-ified enough for me to actually afford one. It’s not a new one, mind you; it’s what I call a “post-lease” compliance car, but it’s pure electric and all fun!
Let me explain how it is that I have been, for a month now, the proud owner of a 2016 Fiat 500e e-Sport with sunroof and fancy orange trim.
Some months ago, I discovered that the 500e, considered a California “compliance” car because it’s only sold or leased in the state so Fiat Chrysler (FCA) can meet its zero emission mandate obligations. The mandate requires a percentage of the cars FCA sells there to not generate any pollutant tailpipe emissions. As I understand it, it can satisfy some of those requirements buying credits from the likes of Tesla, which it has been doing in Europe too. The rest of the fleet have to be in the form of FCA’s own electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It chose the little retro-designed 500e - based on the popular 1960s Fiat Cinquecento (500) - as their EV platform, a decision I now appreciate. Basically a 2+ seater, meaning two front seats and two really tight rear seats, it is strictly a city car. It’s quick, nimble, and compact. And when I say, quick, I mean it. The first couple weeks I relished leaving the cars next me at the light quickly growing smaller in my rearview mirror. The car will do 0-60 in under 9 seconds: not Tesla quick, but good enough to beat most cars around me.
What drew me to the 500e was the fact that I could buy one for under $10,000. When the car originally came out around 2013, it was priced at $32,500, meaning with the $7,500 federal tax incentive, its price was in the $25,000 range. When I first started looking online, most 500e were less than $8000, a few still are, depending on year and mileage. Now they are averaging $9-11,000 used.
As my wife neared retirement, I figured it would be “now or never.” Over the years we’d stashed enough away in savings to afford to sell my aging 2003 Odyssey minivan, which I had used to start Quikbyke, and buy the car outright. I found a dealer in Orange County with something like 60 500e on his lot. I reached out to him and he sent me a spread sheet of all the cars he had available at the time. He told me he moved about 80 or so 500e a month. Most of his inventory were 2016 models, with a couple 2017 mixed in. I have to commend him for both his online marketing and over-the-phone responsiveness. Every car has like a dozen quality, detailed photos you can inspect through the website. He promptly replied to my inquires and concerns; and eventually I settled on a gray car with the sunroof and e-sport trim package. It had just over 26,350 miles on it and listed for $9,600. I paid the full price, plus $300 in processing fees that include FedEx two-day delivery of return documents.
Then I had to get the car from California to Nebraska. Here, the dealer facilitated the process and arranged for a shipper to pickup the car and drop it off at the house for less than the online quotes I received. Delivery from California was $1,100. All totaled, the deal cost me $11,000. Not an inconsequential sum of money, by any means, but what the shipper delivered at 1pm this past Mother’s Day was a nearly flawless little “Baby Tesla,” as the teenage at the McDonald’s drive-thru window called it. The only imperfection I’ve found are two minor scuff marks on the rear bumper. The car even had that “new car” smell, courtesy of a couple fragrance patches the dealer had dropped in the door bins.
Of course, with any “used” electric car, you are going to be concerned about the condition of the battery pack. I was. Lithium batteries will gradually lose their ability to hold a charge over time, it’s called chronological aging, sort of like us humans. Over the last month, I am pleased to report that I’ve seen the “wake-up” range guesstimator on the car gradually increase to as much as 119 miles. The official EPA estimate on the car’s 24kWh battery is 84 miles. To see it in the 115+ range each morning after an overnight charge, which, by the way, I do using only the car’s 120V, 15A “emergency” charger, is comforting. While I have about 12 months remaining on the 48-month Bumper-to-Bumper warranty, I have 5 years on the 8-year battery pack warranty. In fact, one of the reasons I went with the 500e and not Nissan’s LEAF is because the former uses an active temperature management system, while the latter uses a passive, ambient air approach. The more you keep the battery in its “ideal” operating range, the longer it will last; and Nebraska is not California: we have far more extremes of weather here than there.
Because the car was basically designed mainly for urban commutes, FCA didn’t equip it with DC fast charge capability, which is really only necessary if you’re driving long distances across country and don’t want to wait around for 3-4 hours at Level II charging, which the car is equipped to handle. I likely loll eventually lay out the $1200 to have an electrician wire the garage for 240V, but for now, 120V works fine.
There also another reason I am in no hurry to put in Level II, apart from the cost. I am experimenting to see how well 120V plugs work on a day-to-day basis for longer-term EV rentals, but more on that at a later time.
Over all, I am quite pleased with “our” purchase. We’re a two-car family at the moment: my wife usually drives the 2009 Prius, while I run errands and attend local meet ups and business meetings in the 500e. I am gradually working towards getting her comfortable with the Fiat; the less gasoline we have to buy, even when the car gets 44 mpg, the better; and the Prius is there for the occasional road trip. This is a precautionary, pragmatic strategy other EV owners seem to follow as well.
Driving the 500e is so different from even the Prius, it’s hard to describe. The acceleration is so smooth. There is none of the jerkiness characteristic of the internal combustion engine. The instant availability of full torque from the 82kW (111hp) electric motor is seductive: you want to “show off” at every opportunity: usually if you’re the first car at a stop light. Since apart from the perforated air dams at the front and rear of the car, and the “500e” badging, here’s nothing that really says this is an electric car as opposed to the gasoline 500 model. The EVangelist in me wants to show the rest of the world how “fun” an electric car can be, so I ordered a “vanity” Nebraska license plate that spells out “L1TH1UM,” a not-so-subtle “hint” what makes this car go. I installed it this morning.
Of course, besides being way too much fun to drive, it is only as “green” as the electrons that make it go. My local utility, OPPD, is part of the Southwest Power Pool, which uses a mix of coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables, the latter which occasionally has gotten as high as 40%, and in the middle of the night once, it achieved more than 60%. Yes, it’s not California but the utility and the power pool are definitely moving in the right direction. With luck, maybe we can even afford to put solar on the house someday too. OPPD is planning on selling shares in a new solar farm it is constructing, giving us other “green” power option.
It took the industry more than 20 years to reach the point where Priuses are now a quite common sight. Now you’re starting to see Nissan LEAFs and Tesla’s “everywhere.” For example, this past weekend, our adult daughter took her mother and me out to dinner for Father’s Day. When we emerged from the sushi restaurant, someone has parked a Model 3 in the row directly behind the 500e. My daughter shrugged and said, “I see them all the time.”
This is Omaha, folks, not Ojai.
Addendum, on the way to the courthouse this morning to pick up the new “L1TH1UM” plates, I spotted a Model S in the traffic ahead of me.
Originally published: 18 Jun 2019
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