Giovanni Agnelli, the patriarch of Italy's motor industry, died at his home in Turin early today at the age of 81. He turned his family car company, founded just over a century ago, into a global conglomerate. This report from David Willey:
Gianni Agnelli, one of Europe's leading industrialists in the 20th century, was no longer in total control of Fiat, having become honorary chairman on his retirement. But he will be remembered as the man who led Italy's industrial renaissance after the damage inflicted on the country during the Second World War. He'd been suffering from prostate cancer and had recently undergone treatment in the United States. Known in his youth as an international playboy, Gianni Agnelli successfully directed the fortunes of his family company during several decades and ensured its prosperity by getting successive Italian governments to develop road instead of rail transport. The result is that Italy today is one of the most traffic congested countries in Europe, with six out of every ten inhabitants owning a car. Fiat is now in dire financial straits, having suffered big losses in its car-making division which is now partly owned by General Motors of America. It reported losses as high as two billion dollars in 2002. But the company remains Italy's largest private sector employer. It has recently been forced to lay off over eight thousand workers to reduce costs.