Between Agnelli and Mussolini: Ford’s unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the Italian automobile market in the interwar period
This article discusses one chapter of the interwar history of the Ford Motor Company in Europe rather neglected by historiography, namely its unsuccessful attempt to erect a solid base of operations in Italy. After WW1 the breaking into the Italian automobile market had been part of the Ford Motor Company’s strategy of internationalization. It seemed to go well beyond the exploitation of an additional European market: possibly, its most interesting and promising aspect was the utilization of an Italian branch as a bridgehead into the Balkans, the East Mediterranean region, the Middle East and North-East Africa. At the beginning this strategy turned out successful. But when, in the late 1920s, the American Company tried to improve its position in the country – either through the establishment of an assembly plant or a joint venture with an Italian firm – it turned out impossible. Conventional wisdom about such a failure has underlined the persevering hostility of Fiat, already the main Italian car producer, backed by Mussolini’s nationalistic economic policy. This was certainly the main cause. Yet, also on the Ford side some wavering and hesitation occurred. Therefore a few chances were missed: the most glamorous being an agreement, insofar totally neglected by historiography, with Fiat itself.
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