Incentives pushed Italy's new-car sales in 2017 to their highest level in eight years.
Registrations rose 7.9 percent in 2017 to 1.97 million, according to data published on Tuesday by the transport ministry.
The jump was the fourth consecutive yearly increase and the highest sales figure since 2009. Registrations in December fell by 3.2 percent to 121,100 units, as the month had two fewer selling days than December 2016. Adjusted for selling days, sales would have grown by 7.6 percent, according to Evercore ISI analysts.
"The 2017 sales increase is due to incentives by manufacturers and dealers, as new-car demand remained weak," industry association ANFIA said in a statement.
The number of self-registrations by automakers and dealers at about 335,000 last year was the highest to date and 116,000 more than in 2016, according to market researchers Dataforce. Sales to private customers declined by 1.9 percent in 2017 and by 12 percent in December, Dataforce said.
Despite the higher self-registrations, 2017 growth slowed from the 16 percent increase in 2016.
FCA remains No. 1
Market leader Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' registrations rose 5.7 percent last year but fell 14 percent in December.
All FCA brands except Lancia increased sales in 2017, led by a 42 percent jump at Maserati. Alfa Romeo and Jeep sales rose 25 percent and 22 percent respectively. Fiat brand sales increased 4.3 percent in 2017 but fell 18 percent in December, its third consecutive monthly decline.
The figures were calculated by Automotive News Europe from official ministry data because FCA does not include Maserati in its sales press release.
Volkswagen Group's registrations increased 6 percent in 2017 but declined by 10 percent in December. VW brand sales rose by 4.1 percent last year but fell by 9.2 percent in December.
Strong growth at Skoda and Seat helped by the launch of new SUVs offset slow demand for VW vehicles. Skoda's volume rose 18 percent in 2017 and 1.3 percent in December. Seat sales rose 13 percent for the year and by 1.1 percent in December. Audi sales grew by 4.9 percent for the year and by 2.9 percent in December. Porsche's volume was up 7.2 percent and 24 percent.
PSA Group sales rose 17 percent in 2017 excluding the Opel brand which it bought from General Motors in August.
Peugeot brand sales increased 11 percent in the full year and 4.1 percent in December, while Citroen's volume rose 29 percent in December and the full year. Citroen was helped by the success of the C3, of which 48,625 were sold out of brand's total of 78,198 in 2017. It was Italy's the second most popular car in December after the Fiat Panda. DS's volume fell 28 percent for the year and 63 percent in December. Opel sales grew 4.1 percent in 2017 but plunged 39 percent in December.
Renault Group sales rose 15 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in December. The Dacia low-cost brand increased sales 21 percent for the year and 34 percent in December, while Renault saw more moderate increases of 13 percent in 2017 and 3.3 percent last month.
Ford posted 7.8 percent growth for the full year and 7.1 percent in December.
• Download PDF for December and 12-month Italy sales
BMW Group sales rose by 1.5 percent in 2017 and by 15 percent in December. Mercedes sales increased 2.2 percent for the year but fell 12 percent in December.
Among Asian automakers, Toyota posted a 18 percent increase in 2017 and a 2.7 decline in December. Nissan sales grew by 14 percent in 2017 and by 25 percent in December. Hyundai registrations were up 4.5 percent in 2017 and 11 percent in December, while sister company Kia posted a 6.2 percent increase in 2017 and a 36 percent jump in December.
Lower gasoline-car sales
Many Italian buyers opted for fuel-efficient powertrains such as diesels, hybrid and LPG-powered cars
The market share of gasoline cars dropped to 31.6 percent last year from 32.4 percent in 2016.
Sales of diesels held up much better in Italy than in other European markets. Diesel car registrations rose 6.2 percent in 2017 with a loss of market share of less than a percentage point (56.7 percent from 57.4 percent in 2016). However, diesel sales fell 7.5 percent in December, with a 57.3 percent market share compared with 59.1 percent in December 2016.
Registrations of hybrid cars jumped 71 percent to 66,760 for a 3.4 percent market share, up from 2.1 percent in 2016.
LPG-powered cars gained ground with a 27 percent year-on-year increase and a 6.5 percent share, while CNG vehicles saw registrations fall 25 percent. Battery electric vehicles had a 38 percent sales growth but their role remains marginal at less than 2,000 units with a 0.1 market share.
ANFIA and Dataforce see 2018 sales at 2017's level. Evercore ISI forecasts a 1.5 percent increase.