MILAN, Italy -- Italian car sales fell 4.9 percent year-on-year in August, while dominant local automaker Fiat's market share edged up from July.
Italians bought a total of 85,300 cars last month, traditionally one of the industry's slowest periods when much of the country goes on holiday.
Fiat, Italy's largest industrial group, saw sales in its key domestic market fall 8.8 percent to 24,320 units compared with August last year.
But its market share -- under siege in recent years from increasingly aggressive foreign competition -- was up slightly at 28.5 percent from 28.2 percent in July, preliminary data from the Transport Ministry showed.
"The negative results of the Italian auto market in the last two months make the forecasts for 2004 less optimistic," carmaker's association Anfia said in a note, adding that high fuel prices and the feeble economy were also weighing on demand.
"It is going to be difficult to reach 2.2 million units (from 2.24 million in 2003), considering demand will probably be weaker in the autumn months."
The company unveiled a streamlined structure for its loss-making auto business on Wednesday, but analysts expected the reorganization to have little short-term impact on sales which they say depend on the success of a series of new models the carmaker has introduced in the last year.
Among competing brands, Mercedes also saw sales drop, with Italian sales down 19 percent at 2,190 units. Sales at Volkswagen's Seat almost halved to 1,100 units from 2,077 in 2003, and its market share fell to 1.29 percent.
Mazda sales bucked the trend, roughly doubling to 1,090 from 563 units. Citroen also fared better, with a rise in sales to 5,810 from 5,137 units in the previous year.
"It's not a particularly significant contraction if one considers that August is certainly an atypical month for car sales," research institute Centro Studi Promotor said in a note.
The institute expressed cautious optimism for the last quarter, saying producers' and dealers' continuing efforts to keep prices low could help sales.