Francois refused to be drawn on whether the electric 500 could be rear-wheel drive like the original, but said he would be open to the idea. He also said that an electric Abarth model could hold appeal.
The electric car platform that the 500e will sit on will be FCA Group developed. Francois said he would personally be open to sharing the technology with partners - the 500 platform has previously been shared with the Ford Ka, for instance, but he stressed that any such decision would have to be made at a Group level.
Fiat also confirmed the 500 lineup will be expanded with a 500 Giardiniera estate, although the firm didn't say if that version would also appear at next year's Geneva show.
Ahead of the 500e arriving, a mild hybrid 500 is due to launch later this year.
The aim is to consolidate the brand’s dominance of the city car segment - the 500 and Panda hold a third of this market - while developing technologies that allow these models to satisfy emission regulations.
The 500 Giardiniera, which references the tiny wagon of 1960, will offer the best space efficiency in its class, says Fiat, and "unmistakable design". It too will get electric and mild hybrid variants.
The 500’s new platform architecture can also cope with a mild hybrid system. That unit consists of a belt driven, 12V starter-generator, although little detail has been provided on the electric drivetrain to be used in the 500. Lower-emissions petrol engines will also be offered in the 500 and Panda.
Francois conceded that the decision to develop the electric cars was driven "both by the desire to create a profitable electric car for our future, and to ensure we avoid the pressures of potential fines if we don't hit CO2 targets."
Given the limited space for batteries and the 500’s urban appeal, range of the 500e is likely to be less than EVs such as the Nissan Leaf, which offers around 250 miles.
The 500e will be a rival to a growing number of small EVs - Mini’s first series-production electric car is due in 2019, at the same time as the Honda Urban EV.
The 500e will be one of four electric powertrains offered by FCA. It will sit use a ‘City Car’ powertrain, while a ‘Mainstream’ powertrain will be launched in the Jeep Grand Commander. A ‘Performance’ powertrain will feature in the 2020 Maserati Alfieri and a ‘Premium’ EV powertrain will power the 2022 Maserati Quattroporte.
The push for electrification comes amid Fiat Chrysler’s abandonment of diesel; by 2022, there will be no diesel options in the FCA catalogue. These will be replaced by numerous hybrids, both full and plug-in, the first of which will be the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, landing in 2020.
The production capacity released by the deletion of the Punto and other unspecified Fiat models - such as Tipo - will be used to build more Alfa Romeos and Maseratis, whose premium prices can withstand the electrification costs. Some Italian capacity will be used to build some plug-in hybrid models, including certain Jeeps for global sale.
Additional reporting by Jim Holder and Richard Bremner
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