TURIN - Italy's first-quarter performance was much stronger than expected. A year ago, demand was surging thanks to the government's scrappage incentive program. Although the incentives have now ended, January to March registrations - at 708,300 units - were just 2.6 percent down on the same period in 1998.
Sales of over 2.3 million being predicted, compared to 2.36 million in 1998.
The Italian market took time to gather momentum. January was 14.6 percent behind the same month in 1998. The gap began to close in February, which was just 0.4 percent down. March, by contrast, was surprisingly high. At 247,800 units - a 9.9 percent increase - it was a record. However, March volumes were boosted by self-registrations by automakers and dealers, estimated at almost 20,000 units, or 7.9 percent of the total.
This year looks to be another bad one for Fiat Auto. Having closed 1998 with under 40 percent of the market for the first time, it started the year slowly. In January Fiat had a 33.9 percent share, its lowest-ever level. Although it recovered to claim 39 percent in March, its overall first-quarter share was just above 37 percent. This compares with 40.8 percent in January-March 1998.
The big winner was the Volkswagen brand, which increased 63 percent in the first quarter. Daewoo is up 106 percent, thanks to a competitive pricing strategy. Daewoo is close to overtaking Citroen to become the tenth most popular brand in Italy.