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Fiat is one of the earliest and grandest names in automobiles, dating from the establishment of Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino ("FIAT") in 1899. It put Italy on wheels, and in the first decade of the 20th Century, its racing cars were the envy of every nation. The Fiat Topolino ("Little Mouse")...
Fiat is one of the earliest and grandest names in automobiles, dating from the establishment of Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino ("FIAT") in 1899. It put Italy on wheels, and in the first decade of the 20th Century, its racing cars were the envy of every nation. The Fiat Topolino ("Little Mouse") was as famous as the Volkswagen KDF (subsequently known as the "Beetle") in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Fiat 500 put the whole of Italy on wheels in the 1950s, sparking the Italian Miracle, a renaissance of European consumer products.
Sadly the company's fortunes in the United States were mixed. In the U.S. the Fiat 1500 had its enthusiasts in the mid-1960s, and then the 1971 Fiat 850 (Spider and Coupe) were very popular among college students. Yet the Pininfarina-designed Fiat 124 sports car did the most to keep the Fiat image alive in America as cars like the front-wheel-drive 128 and mid-engine X1-9 ultimately failed. Even Lancia, Fiat's premium brand, withered quickly after an introduction in the late 1970s. After a brief U.S. success in 1979, Fiat's poor reputation for quality and a corporate inability to make a substantial investment in technology to cope with ever more stringent air emissions regulations led the Italian company to withdraw its nameplate from the U.S. altogether in 1984.
In 2000, General Motors acquired a stake in Fiat as part of a joint venture to create a new generation of small, affordable cars for Europe. GM's finance troubles led to the unraveling of this agreement in 2005, but Fiat had invested the GM money wisely in new air emissions technology. When the bankruptcy of Chrysler took place in 2008, Fiat saw an opportunity to expand its market in the U.S., as the American company needed a new generation of small cars. In 2009 Fiat acquired a controlling interest in the American company and acquired access to the American company's dealer network in return for providing a new generation of small Fiat cars. The Fiat 500, the first of these, is scheduled to be introduced for 2011.