The biggest debuts each year at the Geneva Motor Show are usually eye-popping supercars, but look hard enough and you can find some more... democratic ideas in the margins. Like Fiat’s newest concept, the Centoventi, which is a customizable modular electric car that totally rethinks many of the norms of automotive ownership.
The Centoventi — named as such in honor of the Italian automaker’s 120th anniversary — is an exploration of what it would be like to buy a very plain car that you can dress up to your liking. Customers would buy a metal gray car (loosely based on the company’s Panda lineup), but would be able to choose from four different roofs, four bumpers, four wheel covers, and four paint wraps. The roof choices, for example, include a soft top option or a solar panel to help power the in-car electronics — including a digital display on the rear bumper.
Once those are selected, the customer would then be able to choose from 114 different accessories provided by fellow Fiat Chrysler company Mopar. This includes everything from seat cushions to head restraints to bottle holders, or even the sound system. Fiat also imagines the ability to 3D print parts at home (or at a dealer, if home 3D printing still hasn’t caught on) that could slot right into the Centoventi. Small holes in the dashboard make it possible to plug different accessories in next to the 20-inch digital instrument cluster, like holders for a Bluetooth speaker, or a smartphone, or a tablet, or a camera mount.
“[T]his is a new business model for automotive accessories, enabling them to be resold or traded on the Web, nurturing a real community of brand fans or connoisseurs of Fiat’s Italian design, just as with collectors’ items,” the company writes in a press release of its Lego-meets-Ikea idea. “This new business model is focused on e-Commerce, the virtual market that knows no boundaries.”
The Centoventi’s modular ethos even spreads to its battery. The car comes standard with a relatively small battery pack that has about 100km, or about 62 miles, of range. But the battery packs attach to a sliding rail system that leaves room for others, and Fiat says customers would be able to buy — or even rent — extra packs to get up to 500km, or about 311 miles, of range.
One other wild idea is that the Centoventi’s tailgate features a display that, when in motion, shows the Fiat logo. But when the car is stopped, the driver can share messages with the outside world. (No word on whether Fiat will allow road-rage vulgarities.) Fiat imagines this “digital tailgate” also being used as a billboard of sorts, allowing owners to “rent” the space to advertisers and generate some income.
The end result of all this is a car that customers can tailor not only to their tastes, but also to their lifestyle. If you only need enough range for short city commutes and want a lot of cargo space, this could be the car for you. If you make a lot of long car trips with your whole family, this could also be the car for you. And if your needs ever change, the car can change with them.
It’s a neat, if idealistic take on the future of cars. That said, Fiat is imagining allowing so many customizations that this almost sounds like building a car from scratch. For instance, one of the “accessories” you can buy from Mopar and plug into the dashboard is... a glove box. Customization can be fun, and a little freedom beyond the packages automakers typically offer for individual car models would be nice, if only because it would give customers a greater feeling of control over the ultimate cost of the car. But if Fiat ever brings something like the Centoventi to the road, less might wind up being more.