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History of an Italian car making dynasty

The Life: We review the book, Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler and the Power of a Dynasty, which details the remarkable turnaround of two car makers.

Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler and the Power of a Dynasty by Jennifer Clarke
Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler and the Power of a Dynasty by Jennifer Clarke

Review - Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler and the Power of a Dynasty by Jennifer Clark

Officially, Fiat stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino.

But many stranded drivers of the Italian car swear it is an acronym for: Fix It Again, Tony.

It took the modest financial and sartorial success in 2007 of the new Fiat 500 (available in a Gucci version), to jumpstart the repair of the company's dented reputation. But an announcement about a year later that the family-owned Italian car maker intended to acquire Chrysler, an American manufacturer with its own downtrodden image, made many, including Fiat's chief executive, want to throw a few coins in the Trevi Fountain for some much-needed luck.

The meticulously researched book, Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler and the Power of a Dynasty, by Jennifer Clark, details the remarkable turnarounds of not one, but two car makers that were mired in financial mud.

Fiat has long been owned by the Agnelli family, one of Italy's richest and most influential.

Yet among Detroit's Big Three car makers, Chrysler was the distant third and had already unsuccessfully partnered Daimler Benz and then declared bankruptcy in April 2009.

It had previously risen from the automotive ashes 30 years earlier with the help of the chief executive at the time, Lee Iacocca, and a US government loan.

It would take another government bailout, along with some no-nonsense, tradition-slashing Italian executives, the new Fiat 500 template of success and a now-famous Super Bowl commercial last year featuring the Detroit-born rapper Eminem to help pull off Chrysler's comeback.

Ms Clark, a former Italy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires who now works for Thomson Reuters in Milan, tells the story of Fiat through the Agnelli family, whose patriarch, Gianni Agnelli, became the company's largest shareholder in 1906. While Fiat's up-and-down, near-bankruptcy-to-boom history make for interesting reading, it is the story of this flamboyant, well-known family from Turin, replete with love, lawsuits, suicide and sprezzatura - the Italian word for effortless nonchalance - that elevates the book into a must-read.

mangeles@thenational.ae

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