MILAN - Italian carmaker Fiat's share of its key home market recovered more than expected in January but analysts said it was too soon to sound the all-clear and were waiting to see how its restructuring plan would pan out.
Data released by the Transport Ministry on Wednesday showed that Fiat's sales sank 22.4 percent last month but it increased its market share to 31.2 percent from a historic low of 27.8 percent in December, and more than the roughly 30 percent expected.
Fiat's recovery of market share was helped by falling sales of the foreign brands that have wooed once-patriotic customers away from Fiat's aged model line-up, tipping the group into a crisis that has thrown doubt over the future of its carmaking arm.
But there were also signs of a revival within the Turin-based group, as sales of its sporty Alfa Romeo brand rose 2 percent year-over-year to win 4.5 percent of the Italian market, which accounts for about 40 percent of Fiat's total sales.
A Fiat Auto spokesman said Fiat had garnered 8.7 percent of the Western European market in January, slightly up from the 8.6 percent it notched up in December.
"The numbers are good but we have to wait to see if this is just a one-off," said Cristiano Candotto, a fund manager at Alpe Adria Gestioni. Overall Italian car sales dropped 14.5 percent
Fiat's base recovery plan relies on investing more than 7.5 billion euros over the next three years to launch 20 new models and cut back unprofitable sales, for example to car rental groups.
Speculation has swirled for more than a month of a possible next step of recapitalizing and spinning-off Fiat Auto, which some reports say could include new cash from General Motors, which owns 20 percent of the carmaking arm.
GM is reported to be looking at investing about two billion euros into Fiat Auto in return for another 20 percent stake and the cancellation of a "put" option that allows Fiat to force GM to buy the whole unit from next year.
In January, Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said GM would help Fiat "in any way we can" but the world's largest carmaker, which held a board meeting on Tuesday and met top Fiat managers last month, has been silent on Fiat since then.
Fiat Chief Executive Alessandro Barberis told reporters in Rome that the board was not scheduled to meet before Feb. 28, when it is due to approve fourth-quarter results.
"Fiat's creditor banks don't want to lose the rip-cord that the "put" option offers but the risk is that if they hold onto it Fiat Auto will be in such bad shape they'll have to sell for nothing," Candotto said.
"It would be better to give up the put and bring in two billion euros," he added.
The Italian government, which has often ruled out taking a stake in Fiat, gave its largest industrial group a boost last year by offering incentives on eco-friendly cars, which boosted Italian car sales by a record 51.4 percent in December.
The incentive program has been extended until the end of March, which industry group CSP said had boosted dealers' order books and expectations of future sales.