MILAN Dec 16 Three of Italy's biggest companies, including oil major Eni and Fiat, launched a car-sharing initiative on Monday that the carmaker said could help to pull in new customers.
The two companies, together with the Italian railways, said that a fleet of 650 red Fiat 500 cars would be available to users in Milan next month in a project dubbed "Enjoy".
Alfredo Altavilla, Fiat's head for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, said he did not expect the scheme to hit its sales in Italy, but that he views it as a way of attracting customers.
"This initiative gives clients the chance to do a real bit of test driving for as long as they want," he said. "If they then decide to buy one of our cars, they will be offered favourable conditions to do so."
As Europe's economic crisis continues to take its toll on the car market, some manufacturers consider car-sharing as an opportunity to introduce vehicles to potential future buyers, such as young drivers.
Car sales in Italy fell 4.5 percent year on year in November. The last time monthly sales rose year on year in Europe's fourth-largest car market was August 2011.
Altavilla, however, believes that the worst of the slump is over.
"I believe the market is slowly stabilising, but a recovery is a whole different story," he said.
Eni, which expects the scheme to offer it brand enhancement and support its petrol distribution network, said the Milan project would be extended to other cities and eventually to other European countries.
"We're thinking of taking the idea to the cities of Turin and Rome as well as into Europe, where we have some 2,500 petrol filling stations," Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni said at a conference.
The scheme, which is expected to break even in 2016, will provide the biggest car-share fleet in Italy at lower prices than rival projects, Scaroni said.
In August Daimler, the German parent of Mercedes-Benz, successfully launched car2go car-sharing in Italy's financial and fashion capital.
Car-share services in Milan also include GuidaMi, operated by the city's public transportation company ATM, and e-Vai, run by regional train group Trenord.