October 19, 2017 / 4:29 PM / in a year

Fiat Chrysler shares fall as it plans to curb production

MILAN (Reuters) - Shares in Fiat Chrysler (FCA) (FCHA.MI) fell more than 5 percent on Thursday amid worries that problems in China were undercutting sales of flagship models such as the Maserati and Alfa Romeo sport utility vehicles.

A Maserati Levante SUV car is seen at the exhibition stand of Maserati ahead of the 87th International Motor Show at Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The shares fell after a trade publication, “Automotive News”, reported on Wednesday that FCA would temporarily cut production of the Maserati Levante SUV and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV and Giulia sedan at plants in Italy, because new import rules in China were hurting sales.

Fiat shares closed down 6 percent in Milan at 13.99 euros. The stock was also hit by weakness in the auto industry overall, after Nissan announced that it was suspending all car production in Japan.

“The whole auto sector is under pressure today, but the market also seems to be digesting the impact the production shutdowns could have on FCA,” a trader said.

Manufacturing of the Levante, which is essential to reviving sales at Maserati, was suspended for two weeks during October and November, unions said. The Mirafiori plant produces around 130 Levantes per day, they said.

“This is the first time we have a shutdown at the Levante line since it came into production, so this is quite worrying,” said Federico Bellono, general secretary for the FIOM union in Fiat’s home town of Turin.

FCA also reduced production of the Stelvio and the Giulia models, which were designed to revamp the Alfa Romeo brand, by making fewer vehicles per shift this month and halting lines on four Fridays. FCA declined to comment on the cuts.

Deliveries of the Levante to Chinese dealerships dropped to 310 in July and just under 400 in August, compared with 1,064 in June, data from market researcher JATO Dynamics show.

Stelvio deliveries were around 1,006 in June and 2,666 in July but fell to 227 in August. Sister model Giulia saw a similar crash in deliveries over the summer.

The sales drop will make it difficult for FCA to reach its global goal of selling 60,000 Maseratis and 170,000 Alfas this year, said Felipe Munoz, an automotive analyst at JATO.

Adding to the pressure were a slow sales start for Alfa Romeo in the United States, from which it had been absent for years, and growing competition for both brands in the popular premium segment.

“The Stelvio SUV has done good so far, but it arrives ten years after the segment took off,” Munoz said.

Levante, which helped Maserati increase sales by 90 percent in the first six months, “is perhaps the most beautiful of its segment, but it soon lagged behind its rivals in terms of technology when they were updated ... The new Porsche Cayenne could be its biggest headache”, Munoz said.

The analyst forecasts global sales this year of 130,000 to 140,000 for Alfa and 40,000 for Maserati.

Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, editing by Larry King

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