A major concern for buyers considering electric vehicles is the range limitations compared to gas-powered models. Consumers believe that they should receive similar mileage to their cars and trucks especially if they pay top dollar for plug-in models. This range anxiety has vexed automakers that have developed electric models with high sticker prices due to expensive components. Fiat is the first automaker to introduce a clever alternative to the industry’s shrug at the range problem. The Italian automaker announced plans this week for a vehicle rental program to accompany sales of the 500e in California this summer. Fiat’s ePass program would allow consumers to buy all-electric vehicles without stressing about long-range travel.
Fiat has partnered with Alamo, Enterprise and National Car Rental to provide 12 days of free rentals with each 500e purchase. Each 500e owner receives a business account through partner companies with sufficient points for the rentals. Fiat will distribute additional points on the first and second anniversaries of a vehicle’s purchase to support this program. The use of business accounts allows greater flexibility for drivers interested in pickup trucks and full-sized vans as well as cars. Alamo, Enterprise and National are pushing Fiat and Chrysler models under ePass though participants can access available vehicles at 6,000 locations in the United States.
The 500e will only be available at 25 Fiat dealerships in California starting this August with an anticipated price over $30,000. The ePass program is designed for 500e owners interested in vacations, out-of-state travel and explorations of California’s far-flung destinations. Fiat hopes that drivers will purchase the 500e for daily use and take advantage of ePass for occasional uses. The automaker’s first commercial EV is powered by a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery and an 83 kW electric motor. Drivers can expect a fuel economy rating of 108 MPGe and about 87 miles per charge. Fiat and researchers studying transportation trends understand that 87 miles is sufficient for multiple commutes but ePass recognizes perception rather than reality.
The U.S. Department of Transportation studies commuting distances and times traveled by Americans each year. The Federal Highway Administration’s 2010 report on roadways in the United States found that the average commute totaled 25.2 miles. This average commute means that many drivers can add stops for groceries, errands and pickups without even coming close to running out of power. Drivers will also be able to recharge vehicles overnight at home or use public chargers as EVs become more commonplace. Fiat and other automakers are responding to the fear of new technology that turns misconceptions into truths for otherwise reasonable consumers.
BMW has announced a similar program for the i3 EV set to release in the United States this fall. The i3 EV can travel more than 100 miles per charge but BMW has sunk considerable resources in this all-electric model. Automakers cannot afford to stay within the box and assume that commuting patterns will bend to their will as EVs hit the market. A marketing strategy focusing simultaneously on the ample driving ranges of EVs and a more sophisticated approach to transportation would benefit automakers like Fiat. Automakers should lead open discussions about the real needs of commuters that include car-share programs, better public transit and creative initiatives like ePass.