Fiat Automobiles S.p.A. was originally known as just FIAT. They’re an Italian automaker and part of the FCA Italy S.p.A. On a larger scale; they are also a member of the Fiat Chrysler Automobile Group.
While Fiat Automobiles only dates back to 2007, their roots go further to when their first Fiat was produced in 1899. They are the largest automaker in Italy. It also continued to be the largest manufacturer throughout Europe plus third across the world following GM and Ford through the later 1980s. As of 2013, they were still the second biggest in Europe and held the seventh position across the world.
Production reached its highest during 1970 when they had over 100,000 employees. That’s when they hit 1.4 million vehicles produced in Italy. They’ve also constructed military vehicles, railway engines, aircraft, weapons, and farm tractors.
With factories in Italy, Brazil, Poland, Mexico, and Argentina, they have a strong worldwide reach. They’ve also been the winner of numerous awards throughout the years, including earning the European Car of the Year honor nine times. That’s more than any other automaker.
A Brief Summary Of Fiat History
The Origin Of The Fiat Car Company
Giovanni Agnelli became one of the founding group of FIAT in 1899. FIAT stood for Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino. Their first plant opened with 35 employees in 1900. At the time, they made 24 vehicles. It was a 3 ½ CV which looked like a Benz. It featured a 697 cc boxer twin engine.
Because of their immense talent and the engineering creativity, just three years later they made 135 cars and turned their first profit. This was the same year they manufactured their first truck. By 1906, the numbers skyrocketed to over 1,100 units produced. That’s when they took the company public on the Milan stock exchange. By 1908, they began to export vehicles to the United States. In this same year, they also produced their first aircraft engine.
Fiat became the largest automaker in Italy by 1910. This is the same year that they built a plant in Poughkeepsie, New York under the American F.I.A.T. Automobile Company. Americans that owned a Fiat during this time showed a high level of class. The original cost for a vehicle in the United States was $4,000. That number went up to about $6,400 by 1918 compared to just $525 for the purchase of a Model T at the same time.
During and After the Wars
Through the First World War, Fiat devoted all of their factories to help the Allies. They supplied ambulances, trucks, machine guns, engines, and aircraft. Once the United States became involved in 1917, their factory shut down due to the burdensome of the regulations.
Once the war was over, the company produced their first tractor, otherwise known as the 702. Their market share also rose to 80% in Italy by the early 1920s.
Workers took over the plants in 1921. During that time, they raised the communist red flag over all the factories. Agnelli quit the company in response, but the Italian Socialist Party together with the Italian General Confederation of Labor worked toward a compromise and Agnelli returned.
They built their world-renowned Lingotto factory in 1922. It was hailed as being the most massive in Europe and opened its doors in 1923. This plant was the Fiat’s first run by assembly lines. With the help of this factory, Fiat ended up controlling almost 90% of the market in Italy by 1925.
Interestingly, the company became so successful that their 509 also included insurance. This occurred in 1928.
Because Italy started World War II on the German side, Fiat was used to make many military vehicles and machinery. Some of these included the biplane CR.42 and other aircraft. They also produced light tanks and armored vehicles. While they did build one of the best aircrafts, the G.55, it arrived after it would be used.
Benito Mussolini, the Italian politician that led them into the war, was overthrown in 1945. As a result, the National Liberation Committee also had the Agnelli family removed from any leadership role in the country. That’s because they had strong ties to the government. This is also the year Agnelli died.
The Rise Of Fiat Motors
Fiat released the 500 and 1400, two new vehicles that were mass produced. They included heat and a ventilation system, which was a first for the company. They also continued to research marine engines and aircraft. That’s when they built the G830 in 1951, which was a first for Italy.
By 1958, the production of the 1400 and 500 grew immensely. Their farm machinery side of the business also took off, and it allowed them to create more plants abroad while also doubling their Mirafiori complex. Italy found itself in the middle of a financial boom with Fiat’s innovation driving the automobile segment.
By 1955, they introduced the new 600. It was a utilitarian vehicle that utilized a rear-mounted engine. They also released a newer version of the 500 in 1957. Three years later, the Giardinetta made its appearance, which led the way into station wagons. Innovation continued as the company also released models such as the 1300, 1500, and 1800.
In 1963, the Agnelli family came back to leadership with Gianni, Giovanni’s grandson, taking over as the general manager. By 1966, he was named the company’s president. He also served as a chairman through 1996.
The 1960s were a time of strong growth, not just in the domestic market, but for exports as well. Italy had once seen car ownership at one out of every 96 people, but that grew to become one out of every 28 Italians.
To keep up with the demand, Fiat needed to establish and increase their factories in Italy. Unfortunately, this also came a time when trade union conflicts were consuming the workforce. In fact, by 1969, they logged millions of man hours lost to the strikes.
End of the 20th Century
During the 1970s, the company released the 850, then the 127. This was the first Fiat that featured front-wheel-drive and ended up being named as the Car of the year for 1971.
In 1978, the company introduced Robogate. It was a robotic system that assembled bodywork in the factories.
During these years, Fiat also began acquiring some other popular Italian brands like Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Lancia. That’s when they became Fiat Auto S.p.A.
The affordable, no-frills Panda hatchback was released in 1980, followed by the Uno during 1982. This replaced the 127 and was a sign of radical change for the Fiat Company. During the early 1980s, they also released their 1000 fire engine.
By 1989, their Tipo model made its appearance. This smaller family hatchback featured some cutting-edge solutions. It became a popular automobile in the world and ended up winning Car of the Year for 1989.
The Tempra came on the scene in 1990 and took the family car segment by storm. A year after that, they released a new 500, otherwise referred to as the Cinquecento. During 1994, the company broadened their horizons and released their first SUV with the Ulysee. Within the next few years, they also released a Fiat Coupe and Punto. Again, they won Car of the Year in 1995 for the Punto. That same year, they released the Barchetta and Bravo, which became the European Car of the Year during 1996.
While all these new releases were occurring, Cesare Romiti became the CEO while Agnelli took over the role as Honorary President. At the end of the century, the company released the Seicento to replace the 500. It was designed for city driving and became one of their greatest compact cars.
The Fiat Company In the Modern Age
The Doblò was first unveiled during the 2000 Paris Motor Show but later received the title as 2006 International Van of the Year. By 2001, the Stilo replaced the Bravo. The success came from the multitude of options and high tech offerings. In the 2002 model year, Fiat released the newly redesigned Ulysse, Multipla, and Stilo MW.
Gianni Agnelli died in 2003, after giving the company almost 50 years. In that same year, they launched the 1.3 Multijet 16v plus the new Panda which won Car of the Year during 2004.
In 2004, their first MPV, the Idea, was released. It had a unique design and was taller which improved visibility. They even designed the interior for flexibility and included rear seats which slide for additional space.
The Fiat 500, released in 2007, came with a stiffer suspension, turbo 4-cylinder engine, and wider fenders. They also unveiled their Sedici, which was a mini SUV for the city.
Fiat acquired Chrysler during 2009 which helped them to re-enter the North American market after a short absence. During this time, they also released some new models, including the Nuova 500, La Grande Punto, and Alfa 159.
In 2014, Fiat S.p.A. merged with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. This allowed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to become the new owner of the company.
Alternative Propulsion Methods
Fiat began developing electric vehicles during the mid-1970s. This started with their concept vehicle, the X1/23. In newer times, they also showcased their Phylla concept vehicle plus the Bugster concept vehicle in Brazil.
Fiat joined forced with Itaipu and Cemig utility companies for help with producing electric vehicles in Brazil. This began the 2009 production of the Palio Weekend Electric.
In 2013, they launched the electric 500e into the California market, but there were no sales in Europe. At the time, the company lost $14,000 on each vehicle sold. The 2017 Fiat 500e featured a driving range of 84 miles, offered 121 mpg in the city, and utilized a 111 horsepower electric-driven motor.
Fiat Safety and Crash Ratings
The IIHS doesn’t have any Fiat vehicles listed as Top Safety Picks for 2018 or 2017. In addition, they ranked the 2018 Fiat 500L with a “Poor” for Small Overlap Front Driver Side. Everything else rated for the model received a “Good” ranking.
Furthermore, the NHTSA didn’t rank any of the 2018 vehicles either. The only 2017 car that was tested was the 2017 Fiat 500 3HB FWD. It received a four-star review for Overall Rating with four stars in Frontal Crash and Rollover. It also received five stars for Side Crash.
Euro NCAP ranked the 2017 Fiat 500 with a three-star overall rating, but no other recent models have been rated.
Fiat Safety Equipment
Fiat vehicles have numerous safety features to keep drivers and passengers safe. Their Parkview Rear Backup Camera comes standard on many models. It displays a wide-angle view of the space behind the vehicle and shows gridlines to help interpret distance. This works together with the ParkSense Rear Park Assist System that utilizes sensors to detect any objects behind the car. If danger exists, the system uses visible and audible warnings.
Their Electronic Stability Control system helps to provide drivers with a stable ride. It corrects the course of the vehicle by adjusting throttle and applying brakes to individual wheels as needed. This maintains directional control during adverse or demanding situations.
Their four-wheel disc antilock brake system carefully monitors the speed of all the wheels. This allows each to apply the brake as needed for superior amounts of control while preventing lockup or skidding while driving on slippery surfaces.
Fiat vehicles also have seven airbags. These include the driver and front passenger, driver-side knee bolster, full-length side-curtain, and front seat-mounted pelvic-thoracic side. The vehicles are also constructed of an advanced, strong steel safety frame for additional peace of mind.
Fiat Safety Recalls
Wards Auto doesn’t separate Fiat from the Fiat Chrysler Group, so the recall rates might vary. With that said they’ve received the second to last rating, before Volkswagen. What’s interesting is that their recalls rank low on the scale of severity. That’s measured by how many recalls had consequences which could have led to a fire, accident, crash, injury, or death. The downside of that is, Chrysler (FCA) only initiated about 38% of their recalls. The rest were started by the NHTSA. This puts them slightly over Honda and Ford for the worst spot.
In addition, Forbes lists FCA toward the higher end of recalls as well. They ranked #11 out of #18 automotive companies listed.
In 2017, there were several Fiat recalls. This included numerous 500x vehicles because the tire pressure monitoring system light wouldn’t illuminate when tires had low pressure.
There was also a worldwide recall on 233,000 2011-2015 Fiat Freemont crossovers sold outside the United States for wiring which could chafe against steering-wheel trim pieces. This could’ve caused a short-circuit and led to an inadvertent airbag deployment. This situation caused numerous injuries.
Consumer Satisfaction Reports & Dependability Ratings
There’s not much good news for Fiat. Consumer Reports gave them their lowest ranking regarding Owner Satisfaction. They also placed dead last in terms of Predicted Reliability. There were only two other companies that scored as low on reliability. They were Land Rover and Alfa Romeo.
J.D. Power also hasn’t had much nice to say about Fiat. They haven’t been the recipient of any awards.
Consumer Reports doesn’t rank the cost of repairs and maintenance for Fiat alone, so we are assuming they are put together with Chrysler. If that’s the case, both their three-year and ten-year numbers are on the lower side compared to other automakers.
Fiat might not have won as many awards as some companies, but they have some prestigious honors under their belt. Here are a few:
- 2018 Fiat 124 Spider named Sport Performance Car Best Buy for a second consecutive year from Consumer Guide Automotive.
- Automotive Science Group honored 2018 Fiat 500L with Title of Best Economic Performance.
- U.S. News & World Report listed the 2018 Fiat 124 Spider #4 in their list of sports cars and again in their list of top convertibles.
- 2017 Fiat 124 Spider won Best Sports Car for the Money from U.S. News & World Report.
- 2017 FIAT 124 Spider Abarth named Best Small Convertible by Southern Automotive Media Association.
- The Car Connection readers named 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Best-Looking New Car.
- 2016 Fiat 500 won Most Dependable Car in its Segment from J.D. Power.
- 2016 Fiat 500 honored with 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000 from KBB.
Fiat SpA in the United States
Fiat’s history in the United States began back in 1908. That’s when the company established their first North American plant in New York. By the next year, they were producing Fiat vehicles like the 60 HP. This production began before Chrysler was even founded. During the war, their plant closed.
They made a return appearance to North America during the 1950s. That’s when they sold the 500, 1100, 600 Multipla, 1200, and 1300. At the time, people didn’t trust the reliability. In fact, they earned the name, “Fix it again Tony.” They even faced some issues with rust during the 1970s through the 1980s.
Their sales dropped dramatically as a result of the poor dependability. In 1975, they sold over 100,000 vehicles in the United States. By 1982, they only sold 14,000. Once again, Fiat stopped selling cars in the U.S. market.
Then, in 2009, they acquired 20% off Chrysler LLC. This brought them back into the United States following their 25-year departure. The first model released was the 500 city car. Their popular 500 is produced at Chrysler’s plant in Mexico. This is the same location where the Dodge Journey is manufactured.
Snapshot of the Company
Fiat is headquartered in Turin, Piedmont, Italy. Their current president is John Elkann. They’ve been in business since 1899 when founded by Giovanni Agnelli. Only nine years later, in 1908, they broke into the North American market for the first time.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan. They had a net income of $4.215 billion in 2017. FCA is listed as #128 on the Forbes 2000 List. They’ve also been honored as #394 in America’s Best Employers and #21 in Top Multinational Performers.
In 2017, the company sold 26,492 vehicles which was down from their previous year’s sales of 33,777 units. The 500 minicar continues to be their best-selling model in the United States.
Fiat operates many production facilities around the world. The SATA plant in Melfi, Italy manufactures the 500X as well as the Jeep Renegade. In Naples, the Panda is produced while the 500 and Abarth 500 is built in Tychy, Poland for the European market.
Brazil has their own line of vehicles, including the Mobi, Novo Uno, Argo, Strada Pickup, Doblo, and Fiorino. These are all manufactured at the plant in Minas Gerais. In Argentina, the Cronos is also built.
Other countries that have Fiat operations include Turkey, Mexico, France, Thailand, Japan, India, and Serbia.
The company owns the Fiat Chrysler Automotive Group. Otherwise referred to as FCA US also owns popular brands such as Dodge, Maserati, Ram, and Jeep. They are also the owner of Mopar parts and service.
Their first logo in 1901 featured the company’s initials. Then, starting in 1931, they began using the single red shield, but it didn’t have a wreath. Beginning in 968, they implemented the Rhomboid logo which spelled out the initials using interconnected rhombuses. This logo eventually faded out during the 1970s while the wreath style continued to be used on the sporty models.
In 1983, they introduced a design featuring five bars made of chrome that were set on an incline to give the impression of a rhomboid. This was placed on the corner of the vehicle’s grille with a reduction in size. By 1999, the company reintroduced their wreath style as a way to commemorate their 100th anniversary.
Over the years, Fiat ads haven’t impressed most buyers. Even back in 2004, when they used George Clooney as a brand ambassador, it didn’t overwhelm the audience. In the ad spot, Clooney is entrapped by an Italian woman who drives off with him to her Fiat. The tagline of the advertisement was, “George Clooney not included.”
Then, in 2014, the company attempted to reach more millennials but failed miserably. In the ad campaign, “Endless Fun,” they resorted to .GIFs, horse masks, internet memes, and twerking. Everything they believed the new generation was into. What the public wanted was for the company to ditch their gimmicks and showcase the 500’s features. They wanted an ad campaign that was memorable, compelling, and funny, but that’s not what they received.
In 2016, they continued to stun the world with their lack of decent advertising. The tagline was “Nature isn’t cute. Your car shouldn’t be either.” The illustrator then made adorable drawings of animals that people love, like a sheep and a giraffe. Unfortunately, these lovable animals were then ravaged by predators. It was enough to create nightmares in small children.
Fiat has a history in motorsports that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. This was before Italy became a dominating factor in racing with Alfa Romeo and Bugatti. While all eyes were on the bigger names of racing, Fiat did have some achievements worth noting.
During the 1971 and 1973 World Rally Championships, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider had two wins. That’s when Abarth started getting involved with the development and production of vehicles. During the 1974 Portuguese TAP Rally, they also took first, second, and third place victories.
Eventually, the 131 Abarth replaced the 124 in rally car racing. In the five years from 1976 through 1981, the 131 took home 18 World Rally Championship titles and won the WRC three times between 1977 and 1980.
Then, in the 1980s, Lancia got involved in the automaker’s racing ventures. This led to a long break and no factory-supported racers for many years. After their comeback, the Punto S1600 became the victor of the 2003 Italian Rally Championship. Its successor, the Punto S2000 also took the 2006 FIA European Rally Championship as well as three more wins from 2009 through 2011.
There are several places visitors can view Fiat vehicles.
Official Fiat Museum
The first is the Fiat Museum which is located on the corner of Corso Dante and Via Chiabrera, in Turin. This private museum houses some 300 cars which illustrate the history of Italy’s most famous automobile brand, but only about 40 are on display at any given time. Visits are only possible at this location with an appointment.
They also showcase some other symbols of the brand’s manufacturing appeal. There is aircraft and machinery on display. There are even some old-time adverts available to look at.
Upstairs in the museum is where all the drawings, documents, handbooks, catalogs, magazines, and press kits are stored. In fact, they have over six million images plus another 200 hours of historical footage.
Some of the highlights from the museum include the 600 and 500 Topolino, a 1950 1400 Cabriolet, their first car (3.5hp), a 1933 508S Balilla Mille Miglia, an 8V and 1100S Mille Miglia, plus the 1500 Cabriolet. They also have Ziguli’s Fiat 124, the original Multipla, a Dino Spider, 2300S coupé, and Nuova 500 model.
The National Automobile Museum
The National Automobile Museum is another location inside of Turin that isn’t dedicated to the Fiat brand but has a lot to offer visitors. It was founded by Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia in 1960 and currently boasts of a collection providing 200 vehicles. The brands represent several countries including, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Netherlands, and the United States of America.
The museum is laid out over three floors and measures over 200,000 square feet. It also houses a library, bookshop, auditorium, and documentation center. Among the collection is an 1899 Fiat, one of the first vehicles the company ever produced.
Financing on a Fiat for lease or a Fiat for sale goes through Chrysler Finance. They are located in Fort Worth, Texas and service all FCA brands. The company offers unique plans that fit the lifestyle of anyone desiring to finance a Fiat on lease or a Fiat on sale.
They even have several incentive offers available for those looking for a new vehicle. Their Affiliate Rewards program provides vehicles for 1% below dealer invoice to employees of any FCA brand. On top of that, they can apply other incentives and rewards.
Military and Veteran discounts apply for up to $500. They also offer up to $1000 to customers with disabilities which enables them to outfit the vehicle with mobility assistance equipment.
All warranties for the company go through Mopar. They also handle the Roadside Assistance Service that comes with most new vehicles. All the guarantees come with varying time frames but include parts such as the powertrain, batteries, mufflers, alternators, and more.
They also offer several protection plans in addition to the factory warranties. The Vehicle Protection Plan has two levels: Maximum Care for coverage of more than 5,000 components and the Added Care Plus for protection of over 800 parts. These plans also include rental allowance, roadside assistance, key fob replacement, and trip interruption. They offer customized protection plans, extended warranties, lease protections, and Road Hazard Tire & Wheel Coverage as well.
There’s even an FCA DrivePlus Mastercard. It features no annual fee and offers holders with $100 statement credit on the first FCA purchase. Rewards can be used on vehicle maintenance, oil changes, tire rotations, Mopar parts, or toward the down payment of another FCA vehicle.
There are currently more than 2,500 FCA dealerships and Fiat isn’t sold as an individual brand, but rather as part of the group. When you search for the best Fiat dealership, you want to look for one that earned the Customer First Award for Excellence designation. This prestigious honor was only given to 468 locations in 2018. It signifies that the company holds to the highest level of experience in five main areas: Process, Facility, People, Training, and Customer Performance.
Another place to look for a high-quality dealership is through J.D. Power’s Dealer of Excellence awards. At this time, there are no FCA-branded locations on the list.
Aside from the sales aspect of a dealership, they also have certified technicians able to provide the best care to a Fiat vehicle. Customers might also opt to use the Express Lane service from Mopar at select dealers. They offer quick oil changes, multi-point checkups, and tire services without any appointments. They only use genuine parts and employ factory-trained, certified technicians.
7 Interesting Facts about Fiat
1 – The brand name stands for Fabbrica Italiano Automobil Turino, not Fix it Again Tony as everyone jokes.
2 – The original 500 was one of the smallest vehicles in the world. It measured just 127 inches in length, 54 inches high, and 50 inches wide.
3 – Because of its size, the car initially carried an Italian nickname, “Topolino.” This translates into a little mouse.
4 – Lots of other automakers use the company’s diesel engines. These include Cadillac, Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Chevrolet, Open, Lancia, Iveco, Suzuki, Saab, and Peugeot.
5 – The Agnelli family loved more than just cars. Some of their financial interests included Juventus, an Italian football club. In 2015, they also purchased the Economist magazine.
6 – Fiat’s been the winner of more European Car of the Year awards than any other automaker – racking up nine wins that began with the 1967 124 Spider and ended with the 2008 500.
7 – In 2014, the CEO told customers that he’d prefer if people didn’t purchase the company’s 500e. His reasoning? Because he loses $14,000 on each order. This led people to believe that the company cared more about profits than the environment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Fiats Good Cars? While they look fun and sporty, the customer satisfaction reports and dependability studies show that they aren’t reliable or pleasing for customers. They do, however, appear to have low maintenance and repair costs, which is a plus.
Where are Fiats Made? The company has production facilities across the world, with their primary location in Italy. Fiat vehicles distributed to the United States are mainly produced in Mexico.
Does Fiat own Chrysler? They acquired Chrysler in 2009 and re-entered the North American market after an extended absence.
When did Fiat buy Jeep? After the acquisition of Chrysler in 2009, they went on to merge with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in 2014. This led to the FCA brand which includes Dodge, Maserati, Ram, and Jeep, as well as Mopar Performance Parts and Service.
Is Fiat Italian? Yes, the company was founded in Italy is 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli. They continue to have their headquarters in Turin, Italy and stand proud of their Italian roots.