Italian sales could fall over 15% amid coronavirus spread, lobby group warns


MILAN — The coronavirus outbreak and a weak economic outlook could trigger a fall of more than 15 percent in car sales in Italy this year, industry association UNRAE said, 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 percent, UNRAE said in a statement on Friday.

The automotive industry accounts for around 10 percent of Italy’s GDP, the group said.

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

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

UNRAE, which represents foreign automakers, said that environmental incentives that the government introduced a year ago on low-emission vehicles covered less than 2 percent of the Italian market.

Cardinali said government funds to support car purchases amounted to just 70 million euros ($79 million) this year. “That’s far too little,” he said.

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.

The Italian government has imposed draconian measures to try to contain the virus. Shortly after the contagion first came to light on Feb. 20, the government imposed a quarantine on two areas — one encompassing 10 Lombardy towns southeast of Milan, and another, smaller red zone in the region of Veneto to the east.

Inhabitants are blocked inside the affected towns and police prevent any outsiders from entering.

The government has said it would double the money pledged to help the economy cope with the impact of the virus.

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.

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