March 6, 2020 / 4:07 PM / a month ago

Italian car sales 'could fall over 15%' amid coronavirus spread

MILAN (Reuters) - The coronavirus outbreak and a weak economic outlook could trigger a fall of more than 15% in car sales in Italy this year, foreign car manufacturers association UNRAE said on Friday, calling on Rome for support.

Without “timely and robust” measures, Italy’s car market risks losing about 300,000 registrations this year from around 1.92 million in 2019, when sales were up 0.3%, UNRAE said in a statement, adding the automotive industry accounts for around 10% of Italy’s GDP.

The death toll from the virus outbreak in Italy - Europe’s worst-hit country - rose to 148 on Thursday, while contagion cases rose above 3,800.

UNRAE General Manager Andrea Cardinali said that based on January and February market trends, before the coronavirus emergency broke, the lobby’s research center estimated a market drop of around 7% this year, or 135,000 registrations.

“If we add the virus impact we could more than double that, to 300,000,” he said.

UNRAE said that environmental incentives that the government introduced a year ago on low-emission vehicles covered less than 2% of the Italian market.

Cardinali added that government funds to support car purchases amounted to just 70 million euros ($79 million) this year.

“That’s far too little,” he said.

The government, which has imposed draconian measures to try to contain the virus, said it would double the money pledged to help the economy cope with its impact.

On Friday, the statistics bureau, ISTAT, said Italy’s economic outlook was already negative in February, before the country was hit by the virus which has heavily disrupted the economy, especially the tourist sector.

Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari; editing by Nick Macfie

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