Fiat Automobiles, known simply as ‘Fiat’, is the largest automobile manufacturer in Italy. From its inception at the turn of the 19th century to the 1980s, it was the largest automobile manufacturer in Europe and the third largest in the world.

In 1900, Italian businessman Giovanni Agnello joined forces with seven investors to create an automobile plant in Turin. The factory was formed under the name Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino (FIAT).

Initially, the building hired 35 staff members who worked on an outlay of 24 cars. However, the cars grew so successful that within six years they multiplied their fleet fifty times over and were able to float the company on the Stock Exchange.

The company then built a US production plant in 1908, on the outskirts of New York, where it began outmuscling competitors. Despite its success, it closed during US involvement in the First World War in 1917.

In 1923 Fiat unveiled its revolutionary new five-storey Lingotto car factory. At this time the factory was seen as a creative space designed to catapult Fiat and the Italian car economy to the next level. Around this time, 87% of the total market share of automobiles in Italy was owned by Fiat.

In 1939, with the backdrop of war and Mussolini, Fiat would build its Mirafiori plant in Turin to further expand its reach. Any hopes of international expansion were abandoned in favour of a more domestic policy.

When the Second World War arrived and production ceased the brand had an important part to play, making military vehicles and machinery for the Italian air force. The original Founder Agnelli passed away in 1945 and Vittorio Valletta became President of Fiat, to lead the company and country into a post-war recovery.

In 1957, the Fiat 500 (or The Cinquecento) sped off the factory floor. Inspired by Hitler’s commission of the VW, the German “people’s car”, Mussolini wanted to invoke a similar spirit in Italy. Despite being the tiniest production car in the world, the 500 became a true icon.

Although production ceased naturally, in 2007. Fiat decided to bring back a reinterpretation of the much-loved classic. In 2012, the one-millionth Fiat 500 was produced.

1968 saw Fiat complete the Rivalta plant, also in Turin. This was to aid the production of the new Fiat 128, a family car which would later be awarded European Car of the Year. Fiat also oversaw three million 128s roll off the production line over a fourteen-year period.

At Fiat’s peak production in 1970, a vast 1,400 employees churned out 1.4 million cars. Many of these were to the UK, who were in need of a practical and efficient family car. Successive exports of the 500, Uno and Punto models saw a huge success in Europe, the UK in particular. In England, the Fiat 500 was one of the Mini’s only direct competitors.

In the 1980s, Fiat waved farewell to US operations and re-focused instead on Europe. In 2011, they again re-entered the American market.

Between the 1980s and 90s, Fiat acquired Lancia, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Maserati, forming an umbrella company, Fiat Auto S.p.A. In the 90s, competition elsewhere saw the company struggle significantly and focus less on domestic efforts, turning their attention instead to the international market.

Nowadays, Fiat sees 60% of its sales recorded outside of Italy.

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