From the Chrysler/Fiat Alliance: Green Cars?

Last Updated Jan 23, 2009 3:26 PM EST

Fiat 500There are some intriguing synergies for shared environmental car platforms arising from the new alliance between Chrysler and Fiat. The nonbinding deal gives the Italian automaker 35 percent of Chrysler, which in turn gets access to Fiat's fuel-efficient engines and small cars.

The partnership is too new for actual product planning to have emerged. "We'll know more around April," says Nick Cappa, a spokesman for Chrysler's advanced technology communications. "Under the proposal, we will have access to all Fiat Group vehicle platforms, except Ferrari. This is an alliance that provides strategic benefits for both of us, but it will take some time before we know what technology might be shared."

Aligning with Fiat could give Chrysler what it most needs: affordable mini cars. Two new Fiats could be rebadged as Chryslers, complementing the electric ENVI vehicles the company is displaying (until January 25) in Detroit.

The diminutive and somewhat retro-styled Fiat Nuova 500 (called the "Cinquecento" in Italy) was introduced in 2007, and recalls the VW Bug-type 500 the company produced from 1957 to 1975. The Nuova 500 is somewhat larger than its predecessor, but still tiny by American standards. It sells for slightly more than $13,000 in Europe, so it could make a good competitor to the Smart car.

"I love that car," Cappa said. "I told everyone they could sign me up for one of those right away, but that's not to say we're going to see them here."

A complication is that, through another alliance, the 500 platform is shared with the 2009 Ford Ka, an excellent small car not sold in the U.S. The 500 is available with a 75-horsepower, 1.2-liter turbodiesel, a 1.4-liter with 85-horsepower (coupled to a six-speed manual transmission) and (in the Abarth variant) a turbocharged 1.4-liter with 135-horsepower. They achieve excellent fuel economy, between 37 and 56 mpg.

And then there's the even smaller Fiat known as the Topolino, set to appear in 2010. It's expected to have a low-emission, rear-mounted 900-cc engine and achieve more than 67 mpg. Through yet another alliance, BMW may share the Topolino platform for a nostalgia-inducing version of its 1950s Isetta microcar. Some reports say a battery electric version of the Isetta could be headed to the U.S. in 2012.

Shawn Morgan, senior manager of corporate communications at Chrysler, says the alliance is "in the due diligence phase. Many questions are being raised, and we see a lot of possible synergies."

So, a tiny and very green Chrysler/Fiat/BMW? Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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