MILAN (Reuters) -- In a response to calls for clarity about Fiat's future investment plans, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said the Italian automaker will not close any of its six Italian factories despite a plunging domestic car market.
The CEO, who also heads U.S. carmaker Chrysler, was quoted by the Rome daily La Repubblica as saying the company was committed to maintaining operations in Italy.
"We're in a dramatic situation here, and I've never talked about plant closures, I've never said I wanted to leave," he said. "I can assure you that it's a huge responsibility to make these choices today."
Marchionne defended his decision to delay Italian investment on new car models, which has come under renewed criticism in recent days. Fiat has spent 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) on opening a second factory in Turin, where it is making new high-end Maseratis, he said, and 800 million on its plant near Naples.
Marchionne has come under pressure to provide details of Fiat's strategy in Italy as the economic recession heightens concerns over possible job losses at the country's biggest private employer.
The industry and labor ministers have said they want to meet Marchionne for talks.
Marchionne told the newspaper that Fiat had spent 800 million euros developing a new version of its Panda minicar "but it isn't selling, because there is no market."
Fiat has been forced to idle its factories in Italy, where car sales have fallen back to levels not seen in 40 years. The company is expected to continue to temporarily halt production off and on throughout the third and fourth quarters, union sources told Reuters last week.
Marchionne did not discuss financial or market targets in the two-page interview with La Repubblica, except to say that the car market in Italy next year will "be very, very bad."
He said his business strategy was to exploit the strong car market in the United States in order to "protect the presence of Fiat in Italy and Europe" where the company has accumulated losses of 700 million euros so far this year.
Italian unions say Marchionne should meet with government ministers to reveal his investment plans.
"If, as all signs indicate, Fiat is oriented towards cutting production [in Italy], then [the government] should ask itself how to attract another manufacturer," said CGIL union leader Susanna Camusso in an interview with L'Unita' newspaper.
On Tuesday, data from the European industry association ACEA, showed new-car sales in EU and EFTA countries fell 8.5 percent in August, as demand in southern Europe slumped.
Sales of Fiat Group vehicles fell 17.7 percent in the same period, cutting Fiat's European market share from 5.8 percent to 5.2 percent, ACEA said.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report