TURIN -- Political activists in Italy are calling for Italians to boycott Fiat S.p.A. vehicles in protest at the automaker's plans to shut all its plants in the country for two weeks and possibly ax a car production factory in Sicily.
Giovane Italia, the junior organization of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ruling Popolo della Liberta party, will begin a boycott campaign against Fiat products in 30 Italian cities on Thursday.
Giovane Italia said its members will gather in main squares and in front of Fiat dealers in cities including Milan, Palermo and Parma.
The protesters will call on consumers to boycott all products built by Fiat Group including Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia passenger cars, Iveco heavy trucks and Case New Holland farm and construction equipment.
In a note, Giovane Italia advised Italians to also boycott publishing companies, insurers and banks where Fiat has an interest, as well as to sell any Fiat shares they own.
"Fiat is taking anti-national decisions such as delocalizing vehicle production out of Italy, closing the Termini Imerese plant and putting workers in temporary lay-offs," Giovane Italia said in a statement.
Fiat is Italy's biggest private employer with 80,000 of its global workforce of 190,000 based in the country.
Fiat sold 722,000 passenger cars and light commercial vehicles in Italy last year, making the country the automaker's second largest market after Brazil where it sold 750,000 vehicles.
Falling sales prompt production realignment
Fiat said it will temporarily close its six Italian plants after CEO Sergio Marchionne said on Monday that January orders had demonstrated the Italian market would be "drastically cut" without incentives to encourage people to buy new cars.
After the end of a government scrappage program in December, January orders "sharply declined," reaching a lower level than the already weak intake in January last year, Fiat said.
Italian trade paper InterAutoNews forecasts 122,000 orders this month, 12 percent lower than the already depressed volume of 139,416 orders in January 2009 and over 40 percent below 205,189 orders in January 2008.
Fiat is slightly less pessimistic, saying orders will decline 2 to 3 percent this month compared to January 2009, but the intake volume would be half of the average orders collected in the last three months last year.
Some 30,000 workers will be temporarily laid off to realign inventories to fading demand.
Models affected by the two-week stop are the entire Alfa Romeo and Lancia range, plus the Fiat Punto Classic, Grande Punto, Punto Evo, Idea, Multipla, Bravo, Croma and Ducato.
Italy's industry minister Claudio Scajola said Fiat's decision to temporarily close factories was "not well-timed" while the government and the automaker are currently discussing the future of the Termini Imerese plant in Sicily and of Fiat's entire manufacturing footprint in Italy.
"It makes the entire matter more complicated," he said.
Italian unions plan a strike on February 3 to protest the closures.
CISL union general secretary Raffaele Bonanni called Fiat announcement to temporarily lay off 30,000 workers "blackmail."
Several union representatives criticized Fiat's Monday announcement that it will pay a 237 million euro dividend to its shareholders despite a euro 848 million net loss in 2009 while laying off employees.
"This is a slap into the workers face," said Gianni Rinaldini, general secretary of FIOM union.