While I was testing the Fiat 500e, I found myself once again fortunate enough to be able to share a meal with some of Chrysler/Fiat's engineers and designers. As always, I took advantage of the opportunity to propose some ideas for cars that fit into my own perverse agenda, and I got some quality feedback.
I should mention that one of Fiat's lawyers (a very burly man packed into an expensive suit like a bunch of bowling balls in some pantyhose) informed me that if I used anyone's actual name, he'd serve me a subpoena right through my stupid face. So, with that in mind, here's what went down:
The Idea: I'm always pushing for small pickups to make a comeback, mostly because I really want one for myself. And later this summer, Fiat will be releasing the larger, wagon version of the 500 (actually based on a larger platform than the 500), the 500L. And I think that could make a terrific small truck!
The Response: At first, mostly questions about what I was doing there, and how I got in. After a lot of looking around and trying to catch the eye of other Fiat employees without luck, the engineer told me he thought it could be technically possible, but unlikely. The stylist then suggested he heard someone calling me from outside, and I probably should go check.
They mumbled something about the Chicken Tax, and I suggested assembling it partially here like Ford does with the Transit. Then they whispered to each other.
The Idea: I decided to switch tactics, especially since another engineer, one for the Abarth team, sat down. Here's what I was thinking: Fiat should really leverage their relationship with Chrysler and take advantage of all those huge Hemis sitting around to make a mid-engined rally monster like a Renault R5 Turbo or a Shogun or something: stuff a big-ass Hemi in the back of a 500!
The Response: This one went over pretty well, and the engineer said they'd actually been thinking about the same thing. I was making headway— I could feel it! But just as the new guy was warming up, the other two started whispering to him, and he got an ashen look on his face, and clammed up.
Man, I really thought I had them with the 500Hemi. Okay, time to try for some nostalgia.
The idea: Use the 500L platform to bring back the Multipla! The original Fiat Multipla was an incredible, wildly innovative design. Six people in a car the size of an original Fiat 600! Or, four people and a bunch of stuff! One of the original minivans, these were awesome, and they deserve a real comeback. The 500L platform could totally do it well. Lots of room, great economy, distinctive look — what's not to like?
The Response: Tepid, at first, but then, after they conferred, more enthusiastic. They said of course they'd been considering this, and that I was an unusually perceptive person to have noticed it myself! I was thrilled.
They said they even had a small mockup with them, right under this napkin they had on the table, and would I like to take a look? Well, of course I wanted to look! Unfortunately, the only thing under the napkin was a full, unopened bottle of San Peligrino sparkling water, which they used to strike me square in the face. Several times. As a result, I was unable to see the Multipla model, which I'm starting to suspect they may never have had at all.
The idea: I was a bit disheartened by the face-bludgeoning I got from my previous idea, but still determined to make some headway, so I decided to try one last idea, one that had a direct relationship to why I was there, the 500e. I suggested an Abarth variant of the 500e, with an extra 111 HP motor on the rear axle, making an electric 222 HP, AWD monster.
The kicker to the idea was this: to make up for not having the Abarth's incredible exhaust note, the electric Abarth would have a big jacob's ladder on the hood, and components to shoot showers of sparks when you pressed the accelerator, as a sort of electric analogue to the thrill of revving an engine.
The response: Not bad! They said they absolutely were considering an electric Abarth, and that the idea was a natural part of the development of the 500e. When I pushed my shower-of-sparks and Jacob's ladder idea, they conferred yet again and told me they loved the idea, and wanted to show me a relevant demonstration in the bathroom.
Great! I followed them to the bathroom. On the way there, one of them yanked the cord off of a standing lamp in the hallway, and stripped the wires with his teeth. Inside the bathroom, they had me stand in one of the toilets (for safety reasons, you see) while holding the bare ends of the electrical cord. The 500e lead engineer then told me he could demonstrate the sort of spark-generating capabilities they had, if I wanted to see.
Who would turn that down? Yes, please, I shouted, as he plugged the cord into the wall socket.
I think I remember sparks. Honestly, it's hard to tell, as I woke up several hours later laying on the hood of my car, which was idling by some dumpsters behind the hotel. I was missing some eyebrows, my vision was pretty blurry, and my pants were pretty soaked, but other than that, I think I was fine.
And impressed. Based on what I saw, that electric Abarth will be one hell of a car.
(as always in the My Dinner With... series, all ideas and proposals were actually asked, but much of the responses may have been exaggerated.)