Fiat has held a leading role in the automotive industry since its inception in 1899, at the dawn of Italian industrialization. From the moment they first appeared on the market, Fiat products, today ranging well beyond automobiles, have been extensively developed and recognized worldwide. Its logo has become a great status symbol due to a history of superior cars, prestige, history and tradition.
Fiat 1899 to 1911
The charter of Società Anonima Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or Fiat, was signed on July 11, 1899. Giovanni Agnelli was on the Board of Directors, but quickly distinguished himself as the Company’s innovator. He was determined Fiat would be highly successful and had great strategic vision. Because of these qualities, he became Managing Director of Fiat in 1902.
Fiat’s First Factories and Races
In 1900, the first Fiat factory opened in corso Dante, in Turin, with a workforce of 150 people. Fiat saw 24 cars roll off the assembly line that first year, including the company’s first model, the 3 ½ CV. By 1904, a Fiat logo had been designed as an oval with a blue background. When Italy hosted the first Car Tour of the country, nine Fiats crossed the finish line. By 1902, driver Vincenzo Lancia won the Sassi-Superga uphill race, in the famous Fiat 24 hp model. Giovanni Agnelli, President of Fiat, represented the company on the racetrack, driving an 8 hp Fiat in the second Italian Car Tour and set a record in that race.
In 1908, Fiat opened the Fiat Automobile Company in the US. The Company grew in leaps and bounds: at that time, a Fiat was a luxury item in America, costing thousands more than the average domestic car of the period. Fiat continued to grow at a swift rate and it wasn’t long before the company expanded its product line with trucks, trams, marine engines and commercial vehicles.
Towards the end of Fiat’s early production period, the company was to undergo some changes, and overhaul its production. Fiat began fitting its cars with electrical accumulators, and also patented the cardan transmission.
Fiat 1912 to 1925
Under the new leadership of Giacomo Malle Trucco, construction of the famous Lingotto factory began in 1916. It was to be the largest factory in Europe, with a unique five floors assembly line that finished with a futuristic test track constructed on the building’s roof. The factory was completed in 1922 and became the symbol of the automotive industry in Italy for decades to come. During WWI Fiat devoted itself to supplying the Allied Forces with weapons, aircraft and vehicles.
Fiat began to explore new sectors before and after WWI, becoming active in electricity, public transportation lines, railways and the steel industry. A subsidiary was established in Russia and Fiat Lubrificanti was founded.
Crisis and Recovery
When the war ended, a time of crisis hit Fiat and the company’s factories were briefly held by workers of the Italian Socialist Party in 1921. Fortunately recovery came quickly and, by 1923, Fiat was already showing signs of growth, due in part to some very effective cost-cutting policies. At this time, Giovanni Agnelli was promoted to the position of CEO of Fiat. Several new car models were released, including the four-seat 509. Fiat set a goal to create industrial mass production in order to decrease the cost of their cars. A holding company was established to enable purchasers to pay for Fiats through installments. As the company grew worldwide, Fiat also grew internally between 1912 and 1925. They were quick to recognize their employees’ needs and established a health care plan, sports clubs and specialized schools.
Fiat 1926 to 1938
When Mussolini’s come to power in Italy, Fiat had to abandon many of its plans for an international presence. Fiat would now concentrate on producing the needed equipment for the domestic market. The company responded with new technology and designs in commercial vehicles, trucks, as well as railways and aircrafts.
Two new Fiat cars were introduced between 1934 and 1936. The Topolino was the smallest utilitarian car in the world, and continued to be produced until 1955. The Tariffa Minima, better known as the Balilla, was very popular because of excellent gas mileage.
The Mirafiori Plant
The Mirafiori Plant was a brand new factory that introduced advanced principals for industrial organization in 1937. The factory’s focus was directed toward mass production and greatly increased Fiat’s output capacity.
Fiat 1939 to 1964
When WWII broke out, the production of cars nearly ceased, as Fiat manufactured commercial and military vehicles, aircraft, weapons and machinery for the war effort. By the end of the war, Giovanni Agnelli, the President of Fiat, died in 1945. Vittorio Valletta was to lead the company in post-war Italy.
During WWII, many of Fiat’s factories were destroyed, but by 1948 reconstruction had begun. Fiat’s profits increased considerably and more employees were hired to fulfill the company’s commitment to innovation and research after the war.
Two new cars, the 500 and 1400 were introduced and mass production included the installation of heating and ventilation systems for the first time. Fiat continued its research on aircraft and marine engines and in 1951, the G830 jet aircraft was born: the first for Italy.
The 1400 diesel was introduced in 1953. By 1958, Fiat had grown in the production of both cars and farm machinery and established plants abroad while doubling the Mirafiori complex. Italy was in the middle of an economic boom and its automobile sector was the driving force behind it, fueled by Fiat innovation.
New Fiat Models
The Fiat 600 was introduced in 1955 and was a big utilitarian automobile with the engine mounted in the rear. The New 500 was released in 1957 and by 1960, the Giardinetta version was produced – a precursor of the Station Wagon. This was also the time when well-known models like the Fiat 1300, 1500 and 1800 were released.
Fiat 1965 to 1977
Fiat continued to experience growth of production into the mid 1960s, in both exports and domestic sales. Car ownership in Italy changed from one car for every 96 Italians to one in 28. Fiat was poised to take advantage of the increase and established several factories in southern Italy. However, this was also the beginning of the infamous trade union conflicts and so, by 1969, millions of man hours were lost to strikes all over Italy.
Changing Fiat Presidency and New Models
The grandson of founder Giovanni Agnelli, Gianni Agnelli, became President of Fiat in 1966. Like his grandfather, he ensured the company followed a trend of innovation with increased automation in the production process. The first new Fiat to be released during these years was the 850, followed in 1971 by the 127, which was a great success. The 127 was the first Fiat to have front wheel drive and was named Car of the Year 1971.
Fiat 1978 to 1990
To keep Fiat on the path to automation of production, Robogate, a flexible robotic system for assembling bodywork was introduced to factories in 1978. Fiat was also becoming an economic, as well as industrial powerhouse, as it began to acquire other well-known Italian brands such as Lancia, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Maserati: Fiat became Fiat Auto S.p.A. Between 1978 and 1990 Fiat also setup numerous operations as independent companies. These included Fiat Avio, Fiat Engineering, Comau, Fiat Ferraviaria, Magneti Marelli and Teksid.
The no-frills, affordable Fiat Panda hatchback was styled by Giugiaro for the company in 1980, which was followed up with the Uno, in 1982. The Uno replaced the 127 and became the emblem of Fiat Auto’s renewal and featured radical changes in its electronics and choice of the material used to build it. Fiat’s 1000 Fire engine was also introduced at this time.
In 1989, the Tipo was released as a small family hatchback. It had cutting edge technical solutions and marked a conquest for Fiat technology. It was very popular on the international market and was named 1989 Car of the Year.
Fiat 1991 to 2003
In 1990, the Fiat Tempra made its debut into the family car market. One year later, the latest version of the 500 or Cinquecento was released. The Fiat Punto and the Fiat Coupé rolled off the assembly line during this time, with the supermini Punto being named Car of the Year in 1995.
Fiat made its debut into SUVs in 1994, with the introduction of the Fiat Ulysse. In 1995, the Bravo, Brava and the Barchetta were released with the Bravo/Brava bringing Fiat yet another European Car of the Year award for 1996.
1996 saw changes at the top of Fiat as Cesare Romiti took over as CEO, making Gianni Agnelli Honorary President of Fiat Group. By 1997, Fiat had outgrown its old corporate headquarters on Turin’s Corso Marconi and moved to the Palazzina Fiat at the Lingotto. By this time, The Palazzina Fiat of Lingotto had been transformed from the famous factory into Europe’s largest convention and trade show complex.
During the 1990s, Fiat was once again facing a crisis in the form of market competition. In order to cope, the company expanded further into the international market, making Fiat one of the most recognized worldwide producers of affordable vehicles. It has since successfully achieved this global presence with more than 60% of sales outside of Italy. To commemorate the 100 Year Anniversary of Fiat, the company logo was revised from the oval to a round version.
In 1998, Fiat released the Seicento as a replacement for the 500. The car became known as a great compact car, perfect for city driving. The innovative design of the Multipla was once featured in a modern art exhibit at New York City’s MOMA. This compact MPV was introduced the same year as the Seicento.
A New Century of Fiat
In 2000, Fiat Doblò was introduced at the Paris Motor Show as both an informal car and a commercial vehicle. It was named 2006 International Van of the Year. The Fiat Stilo was released in 2001 to replace the Bravo/Brava. The Stilo had numerous options and highly sophisticated technology, as well as a new design. 2002 saw the New Fiat Ulysse, the Fiat Multipla and the Fiat Stilo MW restyled.
Although 2003 saw the death of Gianni Agnelli after nearly 50 years of service, the year also saw the new Punto launched with an innovative 1.3 Multijet 16v. Later that fall, the new Panda was released and was almost immediately named Car of the Year for 2004.
Fiat 2004 to Today
In January 2004, the Fiat Idea made its debut: it was the first full-sized MPV built by Fiat and the design was truly unique. The Idea was made taller to improve visibility and its interior was enhanced for flexibility, including sliding rear seats.
2007 saw the Fiat 500 have stiffer suspension, wider fenders and a 150 hp turbo 4-cylinder engine that runs from zero to 60 in eight seconds. The Fiat Sedici is a smart looking mini SUV at home in the city or country introduced in 2006.
Fiat continues on the path of innovation and superior technology into the 21st century with a line of new engines and new models. Men of the reform have been Sergio Marchionne and Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who have also lead Fiat into the acquisition of Chrysler in 2009. Thanks to the acquisition and Marchionne’s will, Fiat enters again the north American market, after 10 years of absence. In spite of the crisis, Fiat introduced new models: the Alfa 159, the Fiat Nuova 500 and La Grande Punto, which was the most popular car in Italy in 2006. In 2010, John Ellkan is nominated president of Fiat and a 5 year plan for the development of the company is created: between 2010 and 2014, Fiat has restructered its sectors’ organization through the creation of Fiat Industrial, where all activities related to the production of industrial machineries have converged. Fiat Industrial passed under the presidence of Marchionne, whereas Fiat S.p.a. (which regulates the production of cars, parts, systems production) and the editorial sector have remained under the presidency of Elkann. Marchionne was Fiat S.p.a’s CEO until July 2018, when he got ill, died and was replaced by Michael Manley.