MILAN -- Italy's new-car sales fell 8.8 percent to 162,793 in February, according to data from the ministry of infrastructure and transport, as the market reeled from the country's coronavirus outbreak.
It was Italy's second consecutive decline this year after a 5.9 percent drop in January.
Sales to private customers fell 19 percent, following a 14 percent decline in January, according to market researcher Dataforce, while sales to companies fell 23 percent. Those declines were partially offset by a 17 percent rise in registrations by long-term rental companies and a 19 percent increase in sales to short-term rental companies.
The coronavirus outbreak, which forced Italian authorities to limit movements in many regions of northern Italy starting in late February, had an impact. Demand in the provinces of Lodi and Cremona, where the majority of coronavirus cases have been reported, dropped 35 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Sales in the province of Milan, which at that time was not included in the lockdown area but was subject to some precautionary measures, declined by 17 percent.
Although the outbreak's impact was marginal in February, Michele Crisci, chairman of importer association UNRAE, said he fears registrations could fall significantly in the coming months.
According to UNRAE, there is a high risk that full-year sales will be closer to 1.5 million, down from a forecast of 1.9 million prior to the outbreak. In 20189, 1.91 million vehicles were sold in Italy.
Italian development minister Stefano Patuanelli said in an interview with the Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper that "the automotive industry has to be supported, possibly with scrappage programs also for buyers of non-electrified cars."
Demand for electrified vehicles more than doubled in February, according to UNRAE. Registrations of hybrid-electric and battery-electric vehicles rose 112 percent to 20,556, reaching an all-time high market share of 12.6 percent.
Full- and mild-hybrid sales were up 83 percent to 16,807 for a 10.3 percent market share, while plug-in hybrid sales increased 353 percent to 1,219 for a 0.7 percent market share.
Sales of full-electric vehicles increased 900 percent to 2,530 and their market share rose to 1.5 percent from 0.1 percent in February 2019.
Renault's Zoe battery-powered hatchback was Italy's the most popular EV, followed by the Volkswagen e-Up.
Diesel demand fell 29 percent in February to a market share of 34.8 percent. Gasoline's share rose to 44.9 percent from 42.5 in February 2019 but was down from 46.5 in January.
The market share for cars powered by liquefied petroleum gas declined to 5.6 percent from 5.8 percent, while sales of vehicles powered by compressed natural gas rose 80 percent, and their market share doubled to 2.2 percent from 1.1 percent.
Winners and losers
Fiat Chrysler Automobile's registrations declined 6.9 percent in February. Fiat brand increased volume by 4.4 percent and Lancia posted a 2.2 percent gain. Meanwhile Alfa Romeo dropped 20 percent and Maserati was down 41 percent. Jeep suffered a 40 percent decline triggered by a 60 percent drop in sales of the Compass compact SUV.
The decline was partly due to a change in sourcing of the model, which was made for the Italian market in Mexico until last year. Domestic output of the model began in February.
Sales at PSA Group's Opel brand dropped 28 percent, while Peugeot declined 4.3 percent and Citroen's registrations fell 12 percent. DS was the bright spot for PSA with a 182 percent increase in monthly registrations.
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Within the Volkswagen Group, VW sales rose 1.2 percent, while Audi increased 2.8 percent and Skoda gained 23 percent. Seat brand's sales increased by 11 percent and Porsche's registrations jumped 84 percent.
Renault Group's Dacia brand suffered a 30 percent drop, while Renault brand sales were flat. Ford's registrations were down 6.1 percent.
Toyota's sales dipped 11 percent, while Nissan fell 18 percent. Hyundai suffered a 14 percent decline, while sister brand Kia gained 11 percent.
BMW brand sales declined 9.6 percent, while Mercedes-Benz dropped 21 percent. Smart's volume fell 77 percent following its transformation into an electric-only brand.
Through February Italian sales were downl 7.3 percent to 318,545.
More trouble looms for the market because on Monday Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that the nation of more than 60 million people should avoid all non-essential travel as he extended quarantine measures to the whole country to stop the spread of the virus.