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Car Chase

Fiat 101

By Steven S. Brooks Published: June 2, 2009

By now, most of you have heard that the legal path has been cleared for the Italian car manufacturer, Fiat, to essentially acquire Chrysler. Since it has been over 25 years since Fiat cars have had a retail presence in the United States, it might be a good time to learn a bit about the company. 

Fiat, which stands for "Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino" was founded in 1899. In a period of just a few years, it became Italy's largest auto manufacturer; a title it maintains to this day. In fact, it is Italy's largest industrial concern with 110,000 employees in Italy and roughly an equal number of employees around the world.

Fiat has deep roots in the American economy. The first Fiat automobile imported into the United States was in 1908. Within two years, they established an American assembly plant in Poughkeepsie, New York. During the €˜50's and €˜60's, Fiat had a strong import business in the United States with their sporty and economical cars which always had keen designs by some of the most famous Italian styling houses (like the Bertone designed 850 Racer I used to own). Although the Fiat brand left the U.S. in the early eighties, the Fiat wholly owned subsidiaries of Ferrari, Maserati and Iveco have had a constant and successful presence.  Fiat's other automotive brands include Lancia and Alfa Romeo.

In addition to Fiat's automotive ventures, they are the world's second largest agricultural equipment manufacturer as owners of legendary American brands Case and International Harvester. They are also a significant player in the world's construction equipment industry through their Fiat-Hitachi operations.

Ironically, in the early part of this decade, Fiat had a tentative agreement to sell its auto operations to General Motors. In 2005, GM saw the handwriting on the wall and decided not to follow through on the transaction. As a result, they had to pay Fiat $2 billion to get out of the obligation. How things change....

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