Characterized both by a few large industrial concerns controlling the greater part of industrial output and by thousands of small shops engaged in artisan-type production, Italian industry expanded rapidly in the postwar period. Industrial production almost tripled between 1955 and 1968 and has generally showed continued growth, although the global recession that began in 2001 slowed industrial production and the economy as a whole. The lack of domestic raw materials and fuels represents a serious drag on industrial expansion. Industry accounted for 30% of GDP in 2001, and employed 32% of the labor force.
Three state-holding companies have played a large role in industry: ENI (National Hydrocarbon Agency), IRI (Industrial Reconstruction Institute), and EFIM (Agency for Participation and Financing of Manufacturing Industry). IRI was the 16th-largest industrial company in the world in 1993, with sales of $50.5 billion; it had shareholdings in over 100 companies (including banks, electronics, engineering, and shipbuilding) and 333,600 employees in 1992. EFIM controls armaments and metallurgy industries. Debt-ridden EFIM was in the process of being dissolved in 1993. IRI became dismantled through sell-offs, and as of 2001, there were offerings of stakes in ENI. Major private companies are the Fiat automobile company; the Olivetti company (office computers and telecommunications); the Montedison chemical firm; and the Pirelli rubber company. The bulk of heavy industry is concentrated in the northwest, in the Milan-Turin-Genoa industrial triangle. The government has made concerted efforts to attract industry to the underdeveloped southeast.
With the drive toward greater European integration in full gear, Italy, along with its fellow EU member-states, is liberalizing its economic and commercial legislation. These promise a marked change in the Italian business scene as mergers and foreign investment increase. In early 1999, Olivetti mounted a successful hostile takeover for Telecom Italia.
Italy has become known for niche products, including fashion eye-wear, specialized machine tools, packaging, stylish furniture, and other products featuring high design. Traditional industries are iron and steel, machinery, chemicals, food processing (including olive oil, wine, and cheese), textiles, clothing, footwear, motor vehicles, and ceramics. Italy produced 1,579,656 automobiles in 2001, a 9% drop from 2000. It also manufactured 42,618 heavy trucks in 2000. The construction industry stands to gain in importance in the early 2000s, as Italy's less-developed regions are slated for infrastructure development.