Our Exclusive Interview With the Design Team Behind the Fiat Centoventi All-Electric Concept

From a bumper that displays messages to interchangeable seats, the concept has something for everyone

Celebrating the brand’s 120th anniversary and its first concept car in 16 years, Fiat unveiled the electric Concept Centoventi (Concept 120) at the Geneva International Motor Show this week. The vehicle, the next-generation Panda, could arrive as early as 2021. Klaus Busse, the head of design for Europe brands at FCA, says, “It is Italian design”—democratic, accessible, stylish and functional. The car will be delivered with a very basic package that owners will then customize using Fiat’s 4U program, choosing roofs, bumpers, wheel-covers and external wrappings, seating, storage and display options. Most will be easily accessible and can be ordered online and easily installed at home or at the dealer. The result is a vehicle that’s inherently forward-thinking—it’s 100% electric and will have an estimated range of 400+ km. We toured the car with its three top designers: Alberto Dilillo, head of exterior design; Andreas Wuppinger, head of interior design; and Rossella Guasco, head of color and trim.

by Evan Orensten

We asked Dilillo to share the design team’s perspective on the car. “It’s an important concept because it’s the 120th anniversary of Fiat and the 40th anniversary of the Panda. It’s a huge opportunity for us to revisit the value of the history of our brand and the value of the Panda as a functional car, imagining a new, democratic, electric mobility at the same time. It’s not only an aspirational opportunity but an opportunity to rethink how design can meet the needs of our customers in the future,” he says.

Flexibility is at the core of the car. The designers understand how people’s needs differ and evolve, and wanted to create a car for everyone. Dilillo adds, “We started with a blank canvas, putting only what was necessary in the car. Then we leave it up to the customers to decide what they need. It’s a very economic way to create a car, and very revolutionary because the customer is free to build the car they need.”

With 120 accessories that can be added and interchanged the car becomes a truly personalized experience and its system lends itself easily enough to third party and DIY 3-D printed items, too. The dash can be customized with three screen options, including a 10-inch integrated screen that a smartphone can anchor and mirror to or a single large 20-inch screen. It can accommodate storage pockets, bottle holders, speakers and much more. The seats (with the exception of the driver’s) can be removed and turned around to accommodate strollers, an integrated car seat, storage compartments and more.

by Evan Orensten

Guasco notes, “Customers can continue to change or add to the car as their life, habits and needs change. It’s like the interior of your house, which changes all the time, always integrating different objects based on functionality or aesthetics. This was the idea for the car.” It’s an important step in the story of the brand.

by Evan Orensten

There’s innovation in the car’s electrification, too. Fiat is working with Samsung on the unique approach, with battery modules each capable of driving around 100 km; the car can fit up to four modules, and customers can choose and pay for the distance they need. Delillo adds, “We were inspired by electric scooters and the ability to easily change batteries, so there’s room under the seat for an extra battery that you can swap easily from a recharging station,” providing even more range or for use as a back-up battery.

by Evan Orensten

The notion of Italian design as cultural heritage and an explicit methodology manifests clearly in the design team’s minds. Dilillo asks, “What is Italian design? It was very disruptive in the 1960s and 1970s especially. From the famous MoMA exhibition, you think of the Brionvega Algol television, which directly inspired the design of the car’s tailgate. You can appreciate the car. It’s very clean, simple and readable,” he adds. “There is also the fun aspect of Italian design, Olivetti with the red Valentine typewriter. The color gives emotion. This is the same approach. We tried to work with this Italian design spirit and to celebrate our way to be Italian in the world. The perception is immediate,” he notes.

You find design that is inspired by the functionality but transformed into something different.

Wuppinger says, “It’s also the idea behind the functionality in the car, which is done in a surprising way. You find design that is inspired by the functionality but transformed into something different. A lot of little ideas come together in a bigger idea. I think it’s Italian design at its best.” Whether these are nods to the Panda’s design elements over the years, the electric plug on the hood of the car, the colorful satellite cover on the roof or the modular design system, it’s easy to see his point.

“Being playful and joyful are not secondary elements, but primary elements of [Italian] design,” says Dillilo. “Italian design surprises. We try to combine functionality with joyfulness and accessibility…All these materials come from fashion, furniture, from other worlds. And we try to apply them in an innovative way, preserving this kind of transfer of style and knowledge it’s possible to create some interesting combinations typical in Italian design,” he adds.

by Evan Orensten

Guasco notes, “For all of our brands (Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati) we are talking about made in Italy. Taking inspiration from [other fields] and the country, and not only in the premium way but also in a more affordable and easy way.” It also manifests in how the design team, which works across all of the brands, seeks to differentiate them. Wuppinger says that each brand has its own history, place in Italian culture and its own customers.

The concept, rooted in the design of the Fiat Panda, signals a more “democratic” approach to electric mobility; whether it be customization or the brand’s goal of an accessibly low price point, Fiat is approaching all-electric with experiential features at the forefront.