FIAT

   The Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino is one of the world’s largest producers of motor vehicles. Founded in 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli and an off-beat aristocratic inventor, Count Emmanuele Bricherasio di Cacherano, the nascent Italian auto industry rapidly achieved a reputation for making “horseless carriages” of high quality. Agnelli survived two trials, in which he was accused of fraud and ramping FIAT’s share price, to emerge as the undisputed owner of the company by 1911, the year in which his close friend and political patron, Giovanni Giolitti, made him cavaliere al merito di lavoro (an award for businessmen similar to a British knighthood).
   World War I was a bonanza for FIAT, which became the main supplier of vehicles and airplanes to the Italian army and also diversified into the manufacture of machine guns. By 1918, FIAT had become Italy’s third-largest industrial concern. By the early 1920s, even visiting Americans recognized that FIAT’s Turin car plant was among the most technologically advanced in the world. Agnelli was one of the first people in Italy to recognize Benito Mussolini’s rising star, and he helped to finance Mussolini’s newspaper Popolo d’ltalia during the war. In 1923, Mussolini appointed Agnelli to the Senate. But FIAT’s relations with the regime were never especially warm. Agnelli only joined the Partito Nazionale Fascista/National Fascist Party (PNF) in 1932. Nevertheless, FIAT’s sales continued to grow in the 1930s and 1940s largely because of orders of military equipment from the Italian and German governments. When Agnelli died on 16 December 1945, he left a fortune estimated at $1 billion 1945 U.S. dollars. Agnelli was succeeded as head of FIAT by Vittorio Valletta, a diminutive professor of banking who built the Turin carmaker into a global giant. Under Valletta’s stewardship, FIAT mass-produced the cheap minicars (especially the FIAT600 and FIAT500) that came to symbolize the economic miracle. Owning a car had been a novelty in prewar Italy. By 1966, when Valletta stepped down, Italy had some of the most congested roads in the world, and FIAT was the world’s fifth largest manufacturer of motor vehicles, deriving the maximum benefit possible from its protection of its domestic market. Valletta’s place was taken by Giovanni Agnelli’s grandson, Gianni. Born in 1921, Gianni had served in the Italian army on the Russian front. After his grandfather’s death he became one of the world’s most notorious playboys. Agnelli proved unable to cope with the oil crisis and the degeneration of labor relations in Italy, and by the mid1970s the company was in a potentially terminal crisis. The appointment in 1979 of a tough professional manager, Cesare Romiti, to run FIAT’s day-to-day operations, while Agnelli concentrated on lobbying and strategic policy, arguably put the company back on track. In October 1980, Romiti announced thousands of layoffs and then sat out the inevitable strike until the trade unions caved in. Shortly afterward, the company produced the award-winning FIAT Uno, which quickly became Europe’s best-selling car, and car manufacturing once more became a cash cow for the group as a whole. In 1986, the company ruthlessly exploited its political connections to ensure that Ford did not buy the luxury Alfa Romeo from the Italian state’s Istituto perla Ricostruzione Industriale/Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI). Instead, just as FIAThad acquired Lancia, it soon added Alfa Romeo to its product line, then Ferrari. Aircraft, buses, trucks of all sizes (marketed as Iveco), and robotics completed the offerings of this multinational giant. Despite a severe financial crisis in the first years of this century, which caused FIATto be the subject of repeated takeover rumors, the company is still one of Europe’s largest automakers and one of Italy’s largest employers, providing tens of thousands of well-paid manual jobs both in Turin and southern Italy. Market share in Italy, which had plummeted from the 60 percent or more that the group enjoyed as late as the 1980s, has stabilized at just over 30 percent. Joint enterprises in Eastern Europe, South America, and Asia add to FIAT’s scope. One of Italy’s leading newspapers, the Turin-based daily La Stampa, has been part of the FIATempire since 1920, and the Juventus soccer team is also associated with the Agnelli family and the FIAT group.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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