Happy Birthday, Polski Fiat!

FCA celebrates its 100th Anniversary in Poland

May 13, 2020 – On February 2nd, FCA marked one hundred years since establishment of the first Fiat branch in Warsaw, Poland. Outside of Italy, there is no other European country where Fiat has deeper roots. Since the 1930s, more than 12.7 million Group vehicles have been produced in Poland: 4.5 million under license and 8.2 million at the Company’s own plants.

A commemorative logo, styled on the original 1930s Polski Fiat trademark, was created to celebrate the anniversary. The logo is displayed on the façade of FCA Poland’s offices in Warsaw and at dealerships across Poland, together with commemorative displays celebrating the history of Fiat in Poland.

A Polish Legend

Fiat Auto Poland - Fiat 126

The Polski Fiat logo was used on locally-produced models until the early 1980s and holds a special place in Polish history. It is associated with iconic models like the four-speed Polski Fiat 508 Balilla, the first automobile mass-produced in Poland, and the Polski Fiat 126p, which brought mobility to the masses beginning in 1973.

Between 1973 and 2000, nearly 3.3 million units of the 126p were produced. The final version was affectionately named the Maluch Happy End. Maluch means “little one” in Polish and it expresses the love and respect with which this vehicle, a national icon, is still remembered today.

A Hundred Years of History

The Polski Fiat trademark was created in 1920 when the first branch was established on the banks of the Vistula river. This direct commercial presence enabled Fiat to become the second best-selling brand in Poland, in a small but growing market. However, Fiat automobiles actually arrived in Poland several years earlier, and the first is believed to be a 60HP imported by Warsaw-based agency Herman Meyer in 1906.

Indirect imports continued until the start of the First World War. In 1912, for example, Herman Meyer purchased 114 vehicles from Fiat – not an insignificant number considering that it represented more than three percent of Fiat’s total production that year of approximately 3,400 automobiles.

The First Licensing Agreement

Polski Fiat, vintage poster

In 1931, automobile sales in Poland fell to just a few hundred units as a result of the economic crisis. The Polish government considered the industry of vital national importance and moved to protect it by signing a ten-year licensing agreement with Fiat on September 21st that year. Under the agreement, the Polish government undertook to construct a Fiat-designed plant in Warsaw, with initial production capacity of ten units a day, while Fiat’s local branch would provide sales and assistance nationwide.

Production began in 1935 and continued until the start of World War II. It is estimated that a total of some 24,000 finished vehicles and chassis were produced or assembled at the plant, a large part of which went to the government and armed forces. Essentially four models were produced: the four-speed Polski Fiat 508 Balilla, the Polski Fiat 518 (based on the 518 Ardita 2000), and the Polski Fiat 618 and 621 commercial vehicles.

The Polish Republic

Fiat plant in Poland

Immediately following the war, Poland turned to Fiat once again for production of a new model under license, but the contract was suspended as a result of Soviet intervention. The two parties began talks again in the early 1960s, and this led to the production of the Polski Fiat 125p, with some 1.5 million units made between 1967 and 1991.

In the early 1970s, the Polish government awarded Fiat the tender for production of the Fiat 126 under license. At the time, there was no smaller, more affordable car in all of Europe and the Polish government was eager to develop mass mobility. In July 1973, the first units rolled off the lines of the new government-owned FSM assembly plant in Bielsko-Biała. Two years later, production also began at the new plant in Tychy, which was a greenfield construction based on the design of the Fiat plant in Cassino, Italy.

In 1987, Fiat and the Polish People’s Republic signed an agreement for production of the Cinquecento under license for sale in markets across Europe. It was the first time that a global manufacturer had chosen a Communist-bloc country to produce a model of strategic importance. In the meantime, Poland underwent a period of unprecedented political upheaval that radically altered the country’s economic and industrial environment.

Fiat Assumes Management

In 1992, Fiat Auto acquired FSM from the Polish government and established Fiat Auto Poland. Fiat Auto concentrated auto assembly in Tychy and engine production in Bielsko-Biała. A series of highly successful models were produced in Poland, such as the Fiat Seicento, Fiat Panda, Fiat and Abarth versions of the 500, and Lancia Ypsilon, as well as advanced powertrains such as the MultiJet 1.3 turbo diesel.

Today, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles operates in Poland through FCA Poland and FCA Powertrain Poland.

The Tychy plant currently produces the Fiat 500, Abarth 500 and Lancia Ypsilon, with more than 260,000 units produced in 2019. The Bielsko-Biała plant currently produces the FireFly 1.0 and 1.3 turbo, MultiJet 1.3 turbo diesel, and TwinAir 0.9 powertrains. FCA employs a total of 6,100 people in Poland.

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