Automotive : Italy Auto Decline

MILAN, April 1 (Reuters) – Italy’s new car sales fell for a third straight month in March, down 18.76 percent, leading the car industry to blame weaker consumer confidence in light of an election campaign and expectations of slower economic growth.

Sales of Fiat SpA’s three brands suffered an even harder fall of 20.6 percent.

For the first quarter as a whole the total number of sales registered with the transport ministry was down 10.01 percent at 663,532, according to official figures released on Tuesday.

“(There is) a weaker trend in demand … despite the existence of eco-incentives from the state,” said a statement from auto industry association ANFIA, referring to tax breaks introduced by the government to encourage drivers to buy less polluting cars.

The fall was 10.6 percent when taking into account the two extra working days in March 2007, ANFIA said.

The drop in March, the biggest this year, had been expected.

Promotor, a centre that monitors trends in the industry, forecast earlier in the day a sharp downturn, while Fiat’s chief executive described the month as “pretty sad” at the company’s annual shareholders meeting on Monday.

Registrations of new car sales totalled 212,326 in March against 261,370 for the same period last year.

Those for cars of the three brands belonging to the Fiat group totalled 65,594 against 82,649, according to Reuters calculations.

Fiat’s share of registrations in its home market remained above 30 percent — a key benchmark for the carmaker — at 30.89 percent.

Its premium sports car brand Alfa Romeo suffered more than the other two brands because its main Pomigliano d’Arco plant was temporarily shut for refitting.

Sales of its cars fell 45.90 percent, while those for Fiat were down 16.41 percent and Lancia fell 25.49 percent.

Among Fiat’s biggest competitors in Italy, Ford Motor Co sales dropped 31.01 percent, while General Motors Corp’s Opel unit were off 22.80 percent and Volkswagen AG lost 17.15 percent.

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