In its early heyday the Termini Imerese plant built the Fiat 500 (top) and Fiat 126 (bottom) before moving onto the Panda, Fiat Punto and Lancia Ypsilon. Photos top & bottom: ANSA.


In June 2005 Termini Imerese became the sole production facility for the (Punto-based) Lancia Ypsilon. The plant’s fate was ultimately sealed when Fiat announced it would build the new-generation Ypsilon in its Tychy plant in Poland.

After more than four decades of assembling models such as Fiat's 126, Panda and Punto, the curtain has finally come down on Fiat Group production at Termini Imerese in Sicily, with the final car, a Lancia Ypsilon, having just rolled off the lines.

Fiat’s withdrawal from the plant is the final chapter in a protracted story, with the factory’s future a key bone of contention between the company’s management and workers as long ago as 2002. Although Termini Imerese is far from alone amongst Fiat’s factories in operating far below its maximum capacity, its geographical location on the island of Sicily meant its lack of capacity utilisation – less than 40 per cent of its potential 140,000 units a year – was combined with increased transportation costs for models produced there. According to Fiat, it was this fundamental obstacle – which the company said increased costs by 1,000 euros per car – which sealed the future of the plant.

The future of the plant is now in the hands of DR Motor, an independent Italian carmaker owned by the Di Risio family, which assembles cars based on components supplied by China’s Chery Automobile. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the new venture will hire 1,312 out of the 1,600-odd people who had previously worked at the plant under Fiat. The success of this venture remains to be seen, however; while the company has stated it aims to be producing some 60,000 cars annually within four years, others have suggested these claims are wildly optimistic and that the company is in fact using the deal – which includes forty million euros in public grants – to prop up its own finances.

Meanwhile, aside from the Fiat employees set to lose their jobs, a further 800 people are understood to work for nearby suppliers. Their future is likewise uncertain, as Sicily remains one of Italy’s poorest regions, with a youth unemployment rate some three times higher than that in the north.

Indeed, the story of Termini Imerese is inextricably bound up in the history of Sicily itself. Opening in 1970, Termini Imerese was – like Alfa Romeo’s Pomigliano d’Arco plant near Naples – a product of contemporaneous Italian Government policy, which aimed to spur job creation and development in the country’s rural south. It sought to do this by diversifying automotive production outside its traditional northern strongholds of Turin and Milan, with the hope it would help accelerate the south’s industrialisation. The success of this policy proved mixed, however, due to the lack of related infrastructure surrounding the plants, as well as the lack of training afforded to southern workers, which adversely affected the quality of the factories’ output.

Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, Termini Imerese was granted production of a number of key Fiat models over its existence. It originally built the last variants of the ‘nuova 500’ before switching to its replacement, the 126, from 1975 onwards. When Italian production of rear-engined Fiats ceased in 1979, the plant was retooled to produce one of the carmaker’s most successful models, the first-generation Panda. Through this period, the plant prospered in line with Fiat’s own success, employing some 3,200 people at its height and producing over two million examples of Giugiaro’s utilitarian supermini.

During the 1990s, as a result of increased automation and workforce reorganisations, its headcount continued to decline. With Panda production wrapping up in 1992, the plant was assigned another of Fiat’s most successful models – the first-generation Punto. In conjunction with a brand-new plant at Melfi, Termini produced two generations of Fiat’s supermini, switching in June 2005 to become the sole factory for the (Punto-based) Lancia Ypsilon. The plant’s fate was ultimately sealed when Fiat announced it would build the new-generation Ypsilon in its Polish Tychy plant.

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