TURIN -- Ford has regained its position as Italy's top auto importer.
Ford dislodged German-based Opel, which has held the top spot for the past five years.
Fiat Auto maintains the No. 1 position overall in its home market. But its share dropped to 28 percent last year, from 30.2 percent in 2002.
Massimo Pasanisi, CEO of Ford Italy, said strong sales of new products such as the Fiesta and Fusion helped Ford rebound.
"Focus sales were also crucial," he said. "The Focus was Italy's top selling diesel car in 2003." Ford sold 60,727 units of its diesel Focus in Italy last year.
Ford was Italy's top-selling importer from 1991 to 1997. Opel took the top spot from 1998 to 2002 but the GM subsidiary lost ground to not only Ford but also Renault.
Opel sales fell from 186,571 units in 2002 to 164,686 units last year. Opel's sales suffered because consumers were reluctant to buy the old Astra, which will be replaced in March.
Ford's 2003 new-car sales forecast for Italy was 200,000 units. Ford nearly reached that target. It sold 197,336 units, increasing its market share to 8.8 percent, from 8.6 percent in 2002.
Italy's 2003 new-car sales were 2,251,307 units.
Ford forecasts new-car sales of 200,000 units this year. Renault's aim is to remain stable at about 168,000 units while Opel hopes to sell 190,000 units.
In Italy, Opel is already offering incentives on the Astra. Car buyers who pre-order can get a E1,020 discount on extras that include air conditioning, automatic transmission and alloy wheels.
Fiat had it lowest market share ever in both Italy and western Europe last year.
Fiat group CEO Giuseppe Morchio announced in late June that his 2003 goal was to maintain Fiat's market share in Italy at 30.2 percent, its 2002 level. Instead, Fiat lost more than two percentage points, which is equal to 57,887 units.
In western European markets excluding Italy, Fiat's share dropped to 3.6 percent from 4 percent in 2002.
That dropped Fiat's total western European market share to 7.4 percent last year from 8.2 percent in 2002, a loss of 119,707 units.
Fiat's main problem last year was its aging products. Fiat sales picked up only in the fourth quarter when the new Fiat Panda and Lancia Ypsilon arrived in showrooms.