This diminutive little Italian car seems to be zipping around just about every country in the world. FIATs are great cars and have a long distinguished history that actually goes back to the late 1800s. Let’s take a look at this unusual company and see how far they have come since their humble beginnings.
FIAT was founded in 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli. The name FIAT represents "Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino" which translated means “Factory Italian Automobile Turin”. Their first model, the 4HP, appeared the same year. By today’s standards it was a pretty basic automobile but considering the year was 1900, it was an impressive achievement.
Production grew at a steady pace but Giovanni Agnelli, now its managing director, started searching for ways to make the factory more efficient. In the late 1910s, he traveled to the United States and visited Henry Ford's Detroit factories. He had heard about Henry Ford’s assembly line and wanted to see how it worked. Agnelli returned to Italy with this knowledge and began the construction of FIAT’s Lingotto factory which became the largest factory in Europe. Pearson Chrysler of Richmond, VA, a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer said Lingotto was so big that it actually had an oval test track on its roof. It was the pride of Italy and soon became the symbol of Italian industry and engineering. Production grew rapidly, leading to the construction of a second plant in Turin. By the early 1940s, FIAT employed over 50,000 workers but soon WWII broke out. During the war, much of FIAT automobile production was paused and war machinery was produced.
Giovanni Agnelli controlled FIAT until his death in 1945. His family held a majority of shares but no family member succeeded his position. In his place, Vittorio Valletta became the chairman. After WWII, consumer auto production resumed again and from 1959 to 1969, FIAT’s output rose from 425,000 to an amazing 1,751,400 cars per year.
In the 1970s, FIATs unbridled prosperity was tempered. FIAT was hit by strikes and some unsuccessful product designs. Furthermore, its reputation had been damaged earlier by the use of inferior quality Russian steel and extensive quality control problems, in fact, it had to pull out from the North America market due to poor sales.
In 1978, FIAT absorbed Lancia and in 1986 they absorbed Alfa Romeo. Earlier in 1969, FIAT reached an agreement with Enzo Ferrari to take over 50% of the company, letting Enzo to concentrate on motor racing without worrying the production side of the business.
During the 1990s, there were moments of ups and down and to its new CEO Sergio Marchionne it was increasingly obvious that FIAT needed help to fight the Asian imports flooding into Europe and North America. In 2000, it surprised the world by merging with GM. This allowed it to share engineering and production costs with the company and powertrains. However, in 2005, Fiat and GM separated and in 2009 FIAT took control of Chrysler Corporation.
Today the connection of FIAT and Chrysler seems like the ideal partnership. FIAT, now called Fiat Chrysler (FCA) is robust and building fine automobiles under the Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Alpha Romeo names.
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