History of Fiat

Fiat imageOn 11 July 1899 at Palazzo Bricherasio, the company charter of “Società Anonima Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino” was signed. Among the members of the Board of Directors, Giovanni Agnelli stood out in the group of investors and won recognition for his determination and strategic vision. In 1902 he became the Managing Director of the company.

The first factory was opened in 1900 in Corso Dante. 150 workers were employed there and produced 24 cars, among which the 3/12 HP, not yet fitted with reverse gear. The Fiat logo, oval on a blue background and designed by Biscaretti, was adopted in 1904.

The first Car Tour of Italy saw 9 Fiat cars arrive at the finish line. The first real competition car, a 24 HP driven by Vincenzo Lancia, won the Sassi-Superga uphill race in 1902. Giovanni Agnelli himself ran in the Second Tour of Italy and set a record in an 8 HP.

Fiat had already proved to be heading toward the most promising markets and in 1908 Fiat Automobile Co. was founded in the United States. In those years the company grew and new companies sprung up with specific functions. Production increased: cars were flanked by commercial vehicles, marine engines, trucks, trams.

The company renovates its production In a few years Fiat completely renovated its production: the cars were fitted with electrical accumulators for the first time. The cardan transmission, a FIAT patent, began to be used. Fiat cars continued to shine in the competitions and set several records.

1912 -1925

In 1916 the construction of the Lingotto factory started under the direction of Giacomo Mattè Trucco. The Factory, the largest in Europe, occupied five floors and had a futuristic test track on the roof. It soon became the emblem of the Italian automotive industry and was completed in 1922.

In the meantime Fiat expanded its activities to the steel industry, the railway, electricity and public transportation lines. Fiat Lubrificanti was established and the first Italian subsidiary was opened in Russia. When the War broke out, company production was almost entirely aimed at supplying the army.

After the war there were years of transformation and crisis but as early as 1923 growth resumed thanks to an effective cost-curbing policy. Giovanni Agnelli became the CEO. Numerous car models were launched, among which the 509, the first car with four seats.

The policy adopted by the company was to develop industrial mass production. Mass production was launched as the only way to curb the prohibitive prices of cars. During a phase of increasing consumption, Sava, a holding company was set up to promote instalment plans for purchasing cars. IFI, Istituto Finanziario Industriale, was also established at that time.

These years were also significant for the internal growth of Fiat. Numerous organizations for employees were established: from health care to specialized schools to sports clubs.

1926 - 1938

During the years of Mussolini’s autarchic policy, Fiat too had to rescale its plans for international presence and concentrate on the domestic market. In the Thirties trucks and commercial vehicles underwent considerable technological development and at the same time the aviation and railway sectors grew.

In 1934 and 1936 two cars came out and were destined to an enormous public: the “Balilla”, also called “Tariffa minima” due to its low consumption of fuel, and the “Topolino”, the smallest utilitarian car in the world, which was produced until 1955.

In 1937 works started for the great Mirafiori plant, which introduced the most advanced principles of industrial organisation and confirmed company focus on mass production.

1939 - 1951

During the war years there was a drastic reduction in the production of cars, while the construction of commercial vehicles increased considerably.

In 1945 Senator Giovanni Agnelli died and the presidency of the Fiat was assumed by Vittorio Valletta.

In 1948 the reconstruction of the plants destroyed during the war was completed, also thanks to the American subsidies from the Marshall plan. Profits started to grow and the number of employees also increased.

With two new cars such as the 500 and the 1400, Fiat confirmed its commitment to research and innovation. For the first time the heating and ventilation systems were installed in mass production. Research continued on marine and aircraft engines: in 1951 the first Italian jet aircraft came into being, the G80.

1952 - 1964

In 1953 the first Fiat diesel engined vehicle was presented, the 1400 diesel.

In 1958 production started growing enormously, both for automobiles and farm machinery. Mirafiori doubled its factories and Fiat set up new manufacturing plants abroad as well. In Italy this was the period of the economic boom and the auto sector was the ‘driving force’ of the economy.

In 1955 the Fiat 600 was born, a big utilitarian car with a rear mounted engine. In 1957 the New 500 was presented and in 1960 it began to be produced in the ‘Giardinetta’ version, a precursor of the Station Wagon style. Moreover, these were the years of Fiat 1800, then 1300 and 1500.

1965 - 1977

Growth continued in exports as well as production: the trend showed an increase from one car every 96 inhabitants to one every 28. In the meantime Fiat boosted its presence in southern Italy by setting up numerous factories there. There was also an increase in trade union conflicts: in 1969 total hours on strike reached 15 million.

After Fiat 850, a new popular utilitarian car, the 127, made its debut in 1971.

In 1966 Giovanni Agnelli, the grandson of the founder, became President of the company. In those years there was a trend toward increased automation of the manufacturing processes to cope with the oil crisis and to continue on the road of technological innovation.

1978 - 1990

In 1978 the “Robogate” system was created, the new flexible robotized system for assembling the bodywork. It was the road to innovation and the automation of production.

In 1979 the auto sector was set up as an independent company: Fiat Auto S.p.A., which included the brands Fiat, Lancia, Autobianchi, Abarth, Ferrari. The Ferrari brand was acquired at 50% initially, a share that later rose to 87%. In 1984 the company also took over Alfa Romeo (following by Maserati acquisition - a prestigious sports car brand - in 1993).

Fiat’s numerous operations were set up as independent companies. Alongside Fiat Auto the following companies were founded: Fiat Ferroviaria, Fiat Avio, Fiat Trattori, Fiat Engineering, Comau, Teksid, Magneti Marelli.

In 1980 a new utilitarian was styled by Giugiaro for Fiat and was called Panda. Two years later the car that would become the emblem of Fiat Auto’s renewal was born: the Fiat Uno. It featured radical innovations in its electronics, choice of materials and the use of a clean engine: the 1000 Fire.

Another successful model appeared in 1989: the Tipo, voted “Car of the year” for its cutting-edge technical solutions. Its production marked a conquest of Fiat technology: production by processing stations.

Courtesy FIAT

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