MILAN -- Italian car sales fell 5.7 percent year-on-year in July but Fiat fared better than some of its rivals and managed to grab 28.2 percent of the market, up from 26.6 percent in June, official data showed on Wednesday.
Preliminary data from the Transport Ministry showed a total of 206,900 cars were sold in auto-mad Italy last month. Fiat sales fell in line with the market, down 5.7 percent to 58,390 units, including its Lancia and Alfa Romeo marques.
Overall car sales had been expected to drop by about 5 percent in July, which had fewer working days than last year. Industry body Anfia said registrations fell 1.4 percent on an average sales per day basis.
Sector bodies warned that soaring oil prices, high insurance costs and uncertainty over when the troubled Italian government will introduce tax breaks could hold back sales in the rest of 2004. Orders fell almost 5 percent in July, they said.
Industry group Unrae said orders from car hire companies, often used by automakers to offload unsold stock, tailed off in July. Anfia said hire groups had accounted for 12.7 percent of Italian sales so far this year against 10.6 percent in 2003.
"These sales are probably fed by cars that, more than going into the hire pool, are destined to be sold off as soon as possible at deep discounts," said Centro Studi Promotor, just one of many ways being used to lure car buyers in Italy.
Many carmakers are offering financing deals or spread-out payment plans to boost sales but those policies also squeeze margins -- something Fiat has vowed to stop doing.
PUNTO AND PANDA LEAD THE WAY
Fiat is launching a series of new cars to win back buyers, revive sales and pull clear of record losses which were partly due to its overdependence on the Italian auto market.
A breakdown of July's data showed sales of Fiat cars fell 4.2 percent on July 2003 but so far this year have climbed 4.1 percent, helped by its new Panda and mini-MPV Idea. The Punto and the Panda took the top two spots in July's best-seller list.
Lancia, whose sales are driven by the new Ypsilon mini, also outperformed the market, falling 2.9 percent. Registrations are up 9.8 percent so far this year. But Alfa Romeo continued to be the weak link, down 16.6 percent in July and 4 percent in 2004.
Under a new business plan Fiat wants 30.5 percent of its home market by 2007 but is looking to the rest of the lucrative Western European market for more growth -- aiming at 8.2 percent in 2007 from 7.4 percent in 2003.
Other carmakers lost ground in Italy in July.
Toyota slid 31.9 percent, shrinking its market share to 4.8 percent from 6.6 percent last year while Ford fell 8.4 percent and Volkswagen lost 15.1 percent.
The overall winner was Mazda which grew sales by 42.2 percent to take 0.9 percent of the market. BMW sales rose 28 percent to 2.5 percent of the market and Citroen climbed 11 percent to a 7.2 percent market share.