Fiat 500e EV customers will get free rental cars to ease range anxiety

2013 Fiat 500e sideFrom Day One, electric cars have been hindered by “range anxiety.” The average electric car simply can’t travel as far on a single charge as the average internal combustion car can on a single tank, and it takes much longer to charge than it does to refuel.

Some car companies are trying to solve the problem with engineering, but that could take awhile. Fiat has a much quicker solution: give EV drivers a second car.

Fiat is rolling out the 500e in California this summer, and it will offer free rental cars to all of its customers. The program, called ePass, gives owners access to an Enterprise rental for 12 days a year, during the first three years of ownership.

“We know we’ve got a great car,” Fiat North America brand head Tom Kuniskis told Automotive News (sub. required), “but I still can’t get a guy to New York to visit his grandma for Easter.”

The strange thing about all of this isn’t the idea of someone driving cross-country for an Easter family visit, it’s that Fiat would put its customers in someone else’s car.

It makes more sense when one remembers that Fiat didn’t really want to build the 500e in the first place. At the car’s Los Angeles Auto Show unveiling, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate was the main impetus behind the 500e.

The 500e has a 111 horsepower electric motor and a 24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. They can return an EPA-rated 87 miles of range.

So cynicism is the culprit, or is it? BMW will also offer rentals when its i3 electric city car goes on sale early next year. BMW has sunk a lot of its reputation into this car, which is supposed to demonstrate several important new technologies.

However, even BMW’s best couldn’t squeeze more than 100 miles of range (projected) out of the i3, so the company decided to go with a backup plan.

Offering someone another car isn’t really a solution to range anxiety, or the environmental issues EVs are supposed to solve. It will just make the lives of those that believe some electric motoring is better than none more comfortable.