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Fiat-an Italian Industrial Complex
By Fritz Burmeister
posted August, 2006

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 industrial giant. 

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 accredited





© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited