MILAN -- Italy's car sales fell 26.7 percent in March as a car transporter strike and weak economy took its toll, making it increasingly likely that Italy's car market will shrink for a fifth year in a row.
New-car sales in March slid to 138,137, Italy's Transport Ministry said on Monday, with volumes in the first three months down 20.9 percent on the year.
Fiat Group sales declined 36 percent to 35,990 in March. Fiat had a market share of 26 percent, down from 28.3 percent in February.
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne expects Italian car sales to fall to the lowest since 1985 this year. He said last week that March was a "horrible" month for deliveries in the country.
An auto transport truckers strike, combined with a slow economy, has created a lethal mix, said UNRAE, which represents foreign carmakers operating in Italy.
Last month, UNRAE cut its 2012 full-year forecast to 1.37 million cars from a previous target of 1.74 million. Last year, Italy's sales fell 10.8 percent to 1.75 million, dropping for the fourth year in a row.
Fiat's market share dropped to a 32-year low due to the strike. "The group has lost 8,000 new car registrations, which it believes will be partially recouped in the coming months," Fiat said in a statement.
Dealers have been hit hard by the market slump. "Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk becuase of the sales crisis," Filippo Pavan Bernacchi, head of the dealer association Federauto, said on Monday.
France, Spain down
Other major European markets are also suffering a sales slump.
In France, car and light commercial vehicle sales dropped 22 percent to 233,526 in March. Volume automakers suffered from the withdrawal of French government scrapping incentives that had boosted small-car deliveries through March 2011.
Industry observers expect the French sales decline to slow through the rest of the year. Renault's commercial director for France, Bernard Cambier, said orders had rebounded last month, up 6 percent after drops of 8 percent and 9 percent in January and February, reaffirming the market forecast for the year.
"Overall, the auto market is falling a bit more than people had predicted," he said. "But generally, we remain fixed on a decline of the order of 10 percent in the market in 2012."
In Spain, registrations dropped 4.5 percent to 84,427 in March, industry association ANFAC said. Sales in the first quarter fell by 1.9 percent to 204,119.
Europe's auto market is set to decrease 5 percent this year because of weak economic growth, ratings agency Standard & Poor's said last week.
Sources: Reuters and Bloomberg