The notion that Fiat,
the well-known Italian carmaker, offers only
automotive products is basically a misconception,
based on the fact that Fiat’s cars, trucks, busses
and SUVS are very visible to the general public.
Surprisingly to some, Fiat also makes rocket engines
and satellites, constructs dams and tunnels and is
involved in the development of computer systems. The
Microsoft Corporation saw this as an opportunity to
develop plans how to integrate digital music
players, cell phones and hand-held computers into
automobiles as a joint venture with the Italian
The firm was established
as “Fabrica Italiana Automobili Torino” in 1899. As
was the trend, European carmakers tried to out-do
each other in the production of expensive luxury
automobiles in the early days of car marketing. It
was believed that these models together with
powerful racing cars would capture the market, until
one of the founders of Fiat, Giovanni Agnelli,
recognized the futility of this belief. Following
his lead, the Fiat “Zero” went into production in
1912, an automobile designed to attract the customer
of average means. Apparently, this idea paid off in
a big way. Without giving up on luxury models and
sport cars, by offering family sedans, such as the”
Ballila,” Fiat rose to be the leading car
manufacturer in Italy.
A mass production of
various models of small cars followed. The “Topolino,”
introduced in 1936, had the dubious distinction of
being the “World’s smallest Car.” Twelve years in
production prior to updating the basic design
removes all doubt, that the Topolino ranked high on
the popularity list, not only in Italy, but in other
parts of Europe as well. In fact, Polski Fiat of
Poland, NSU-Fiat of Germany and Simca of France
joined in on the bandwagon producing a car that a
large part of European consumers found attractive
and affordable. Its “tiny” four cylinder engine
developed “impressive” 13 horsepower, which enabled
the car to travel at maximum speed of 55 miles/hr.
But it weighed only 1,100 pounds, a major factor in
attaining the high gas mileage of 42 miles/ gal!!
Based on 1939 currencies, the Topolino sold for
about $500.00, an amount nowadays easily spent on a
set of tires.
In 1909 Fiat started to
operate an assembly plant in the US, stretching the
Italian carmaker’s reputation across the Atlantic
and well into the late 1930’s. However, post-World
War II Fiats began a decline in popularity in the US
and consequently lost a large share of the market.
In 1983 Fiat automobiles succumbed to the
competition and were pulled. Even the sporty Alfa
Romeo, Fiat had previously acquired the company,
failed to successfully compete on the American
automobile market. Alfa Romeo fans saw the last car
roll out of the showroom in 1993.
Fiat, like all
carmakers, experienced up’s and down’s over time in
the marketplace. But diversification handed this
company the solution to stay in business in a world
of rapid technological advances.
2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise