In 1990 Fiat turned the Panda into the first electric car to be mass-produced by a major world manufacturer.
It was the dawn of an important decade, the one that would herald the new millennium. The Berlin Wall had collapsed and the World Cup was being held in Italy. The wind of change and a hunger for new things was sweeping across Europe. It was 1990 and Fiat presented to the world a car powered by an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine, one that did not pollute. It was a real revolution for the automotive industry, for the mobility of ordinary people and especially for the environment.
Presented during the winter of 1980, the Fiat Panda much beloved by all Italian had been a success for ten years and was by then the byword for "small car". Fiat set the goal of making its commitment to protecting the environment even more real and decided to transform the standard Panda into an electric car, the first produced by a major world manufacturer. The Panda Elettra was created.
It had a range of 100 km and the batteries could be recharged at the home by plugging it into the mains. In cities, it could be driven without using the gearbox to shift.
The Panda Elettra was made by Fiat in partnership with the Austrian Steyr-Puch based on the Panda CL trim level.
The 750 Fire petrol engine was replaced under the bonnet with a 9.2 kW DC series-wound electric motor, designed to deliver high torque even at low revs. Electricity was generated by twelve 6V lead-acid batteries. Two were located in the engine compartment, while the other ten were installed inside a sturdy steel container occupying the base of the trunk. Additionally, compared to the Panda CL with petrol engine, the Elettra had a reinforced braking circuit, different suspension settings and oversized tyres.
The petrol tank was kept to feed a small burner connected to the radiator of the heating system, also arranged inside the engine compartment. The drive line featured the regular 4-speed gearbox and clutch of the Panda. The speedometer was complemented with three top speed indicators for the first three ratios of 15, 25 and 40 km/h, respectively. In the cities, on flat roads, the driver could do without the gearbox keeping the car in third gear all the time, even for starting from a standstill. The Panda Elettra could reach a top speed 70 km/h, accelerating from 0 to 40 km/h in 10 seconds. It could climb slopes of up to 25%. With an average cruising speed of 50 km/h, the range was about 100 km/h. Furthermore, the car was provided with an automatic energy recovery device while braking and travelling downhill.
Inside, the rear seat was removed, turning the car into two-seater, while the front part of the passenger compartment was virtually unchanged and fitted with the equipment of the CL trim level. The on-board computer that provided information on the battery charge status was located at the bottom of the dashboard. The car had a standard automatic battery charger, capable of fully charging the batteries in about eight hours plugged into a common 220 V, 16 A domestic socket.
Other standard equipment on the Panda Elettra included seats with head restraints, seat belts with retractor and rear-view mirror on the right side. The on-board instrumentation came complete with odometer, battery level indicator and parking buzzer, which sounded when the handbrake was not applied and the car was switched off.
The Panda Elettra was further improved in 1992 by boosting the engine output to 17.7 kW and replacing the lead-gel batteries with a nickel-cadmium power pack. The result was the Panda Elettra 2, which would remain in production until 1998.