DETROIT -- When it goes on sale this summer in California, the 2013 Fiat 500e electric car will come with an unusual standard feature: another vehicle.
500e buyers may use rental vehicles for up to 12 days a year for free from a national auto rental chain under a program called ePass.
The free rentals are designed to help buyers overcome potential anxiety about the battery-powered subcompact's 87-mile range, said Tim Kuniskis, head of the Fiat brand in North America.
"The whole thing goes back to how the car is being positioned," Kuniskis said. "We're positioning it to be another 500; a viable alternative to the current 500 to expand the reach of the electric car."
Kuniskis said the idea was generated by a dealer in a discussion of how to overcome marketing issues with an electric car.
"We know we've got a great car," Kuniskis said. "But I still can't get a guy to New York to visit his grandma for Easter."
The Fiat 500e debuted in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show and is expected in Fiat's 25 California dealerships this summer. Sales will be limited to residents of California, at least initially, Kuniskis said. The 500e's sticker will be released April 13.
Fiat's rental contract with Enterprise Holdings -- owner of the Enterprise, Alamo and National car rental brands -- was finalized last week.
Each 500e purchase will include a business account with Enterprise Holdings and enough points to rent a gasoline-powered standard car for up to 12 days a year. Fiat will deposit additional points on the first two anniversaries of the vehicle's purchase to extend the program through the first three years of ownership.
By using Enterprise Holdings' customer reward program, customers will have the option to use their points from Fiat to rent various vehicles, such as minivans or pickups. They also will have access to the company's 6,000 locations.
The consumer is responsible for any insurance or additional charges with the rental company, as they would be in any rental agreement, Kuniskis said.
"It gives [consumers] that ultimate flexibility," he said. "If I own a 500e and I need a pickup to help my buddy move, or if I need a standard car because I want to take the family to go see grandma in New York, I can do that."
Other portions of Fiat's marketing strategy with the 500e will be announced this month.