Fabbrica Italiana Automobil Torino (FIAT) or Italian Automobiles Factory, Turin in English, is the largest automobile manufacturer in Italy. In the present time, most car enthusiasts certainly know that Fiat is no longer a niche Italian car company because it is now part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles or FCA, making it one of the “Big Three” in the US auto manufacturers behind General Motors and Ford. But before that happened, Fiat has held a leading role in the automotive industry since its inception in 1899, at the dawn of Italian industrialization.
Its evolution from a classic small car into the modern generations of Fiat models has been revolutionary. Fiat’s logo has become a great status symbol and they were able to keep its style while continuing to keep up with the changes in the automobile market and technology. Their automobiles, in fact, have been awarded as the European Car of the Year nine times.
Let’s take a look back on Fiat’s interesting history and learn about the secret behind its success in the present time.
The Emergence of Fiat
Giovanni Agnelli along with several investors founded Fiat on July 11, 1899. Giovanni was one of the Board Members, but he quickly distinguished himself as the Company’s innovator because he believed that Fiat would be highly successful. Due to these qualities, as well as his determination, he became the managing director of Fiat in 1901.
The first Fiat factory opened in Corso Dante, in Turin in 1900. During that time, it only has a workforce of 150 people. In their first year, they’ve produced 24 cars including the company’s first model which is the 3 ½ CV.
In 1902, a driver named Vincenzo Lancia won the Sassi-Superga uphill race using the famous Fiat 24 HP model. Giovanni Agnelli on the other hand, drove an 8 HP Fiat to represent his company in the second Italian Car Tour and he was able to set a record in that race. In 1904, Fiat’s logo had been designed which is oval-shaped with a blue background.
Fiat’s automobile production eventually expanded to about 1,149 cars by 1906. The company’s growth reached the United States market and the Fiat Automobile Company was established in the U.S. in 1908. The move was successful and Fiat was seen as a luxury car in the U.S. at that time. Fiat also manufactured other vehicles aside from cars including trucks, marine engines, trams, and commercial vehicles.
Towards the end of Fiat’s early production period, they began to undergo some changes and overhaul its production. Some of these changes were fitting its cars with electrical accumulators, and patented the cardan transmission.
Fiat’s First Pinnacle
In 1916, Fiat began the construction of the famous Lingotto which is under the new leadership of Giacomo Malle Trucco. Lingotto was to be the largest factory in Europe, having a unique five floors assembly line finished with a futuristic test tack on the building’s roof. In 1922, the factory was built completely and it became the symbol of automotive industry in Italy for decades.
During the first World War, Fiat devoted itself to supplying the Allied Forces with weapons, aircraft, and vehicles. Fiat had explored new sectors before and after the first world war. It became active in electricity, public transportation lines, railways, and the steel industry. There was a subsidiary that was established in Russia and Fiat Lubrificanti was founded.
After the war, Fiat was hit by a time of crisis and in 1921, some of its factories were held by workers of the Italian Socialist Party. Fortunately, the company was able to recover. In 1923, Giovanni Agnelli became the CEO of Fiat. A number of new car models were released including the four-seat 509. Fiat had expanded worldwide from 1912 to 1925, and it even grew internally, and it added benefits for its employees including a health care plan, sports clubs, and specialized schools.
However, Fiat had to leave many of its plans for an international presence when Mussolini’s come to rule in Italy. They just concentrated on producing equipment for the local market.
Between 1934 and 1936, two new cars were introduced by Fiat. They were the Topolino and Tariffa Minima and were continued to be produces until 1955. Topolino was dubbed as the smallest utilitarian car in the world. Meanwhile, Tariffa Minima was known for its excellent gas mileage. Fiat continued in mass production of its cars worldwide until World War II.
Fiat During World War II
The adverse effect of World War II in 1939 also affected Fiat. It destroyed many of their factories and the production of its cars nearly ceased. In 1945, Giovanni Agnelli died, and he was replaced by Vittorio Valletta.
Despite the turmoil of the war, Fiat continued making vehicles and they even manufactured military machinery for the Italian Army and the Regia Aeronautica, which is the Italian Royal Air Force. Later, they also produced military machinery for the Germans. They also made fighter aircrafts and weapons.
After the war, Fiat rebuilt their factories in 1948. They began to recover and made more automobiles and increased their profits. They also introduced new Fiat cars, the 500, which became one of the most popular models of Fiat and the 1400 diesel, which was launched in 1953. Other Fiat models that became popular in between 1953 to 1960 were the Fiat 1300, 1500 and 1800.
In 1966, the grandson of Giovanni Agnelli, Gianni Agnelli became the general manager of Fiat. And in 1970, the company had produced about 1.4 million cars in Italy. It was a great success for Fiat until in the late 1980s the company experienced a crisis.
Fiat’s market share began to drop by the end of 1980s. Fiat was haunted for having poor quality and monotonous designs. The company also had fierce competition with rivals such as the Volkswagen and PSA Peugeot. And in 1984, Fiat had withdrawn from the U.S. market.
The crisis it faced did not halter Fiat from introducing new cars. They created new models from 1980 to 2000’s.
In 2002, Fiat built over one million cars at its six factories in Italy and significantly increased their revenues. Some of the cars they introduced were named car of the year such as the supermini Punto in 1995. Fiat recovered from their struggles and crisis.
The New Generation Fiat
Fiat continues its expansion in the 21st century innovating their automobiles. They introduced Fiat Idea in 2004, which was the first full-sized MPV made by Fiat.
In 2006, they released the Fiat Sedici, which looked like a mini SUV. Other new models of Fiat that were released during the year include Fiat Nuova 500, Alfa 159, and La Grande Punto.
In 2014, Fiat merged with Chrysler and became the new holding company, the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCA), which is now the new owner of Fiat Group. FCA is currently the eighth largest automaker in the world and is now under the presidency of John Elkann and Sergio Marchionne as CEO.
Fiat indeed went through a lot of trials and crisis in the past years, but with the strong determination of the people behind it, it still continues to manufacture amazing automobiles in the present time.