* Italy February new car sales down as much as January
* Orders responding to government’s latest incentives
* Fiat shares up on Chrysler alliance hopes, bargain-hunting
(Adds details, Fiat share price)
By Stefano Rebaudo
MILAN, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Italy’s new car registrations for February are seen falling by up to 30 percent -- nearly as much as they did in January -- with concerns about the crisis still keeping drivers out of the showrooms, an industry official said.
However, the number of orders, which precedes registration, had responded to the government’s latest incentives for the purchase of new, cleaner vehicles, Gianni Filipponi, the secretary general of foreign car maker association UNRAE, said on Thursday.
“The incentives are starting to work and the orders seem in fact to be at levels that are not too far from those of February 2008,” Filipponi told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Filipponi said the incentives, announced earlier this month, would take time to produce a noticeable effect in the monthly registration figures.
“For February, they are expecting registrations for about 160,000 vehicles, a fall of between 25 and 30 percent compared to February 2008,” he said.
In February 2008, new car registrations were down 3.91 percent.
Italy’s transport and infrastructure ministry will publish February’s numbers on Monday.
Shares in Fiat FIA.MI, whose home market is Italy, ended 9.5 percent higher at 3.805 euros on Thursday, outperforming the DJ Stoxx industry index .SXAP, which was last quoted up 2.76 percent.
One Milan dealer said UNRAE’s forecast for the month was in line with market expectations.
An industry analyst said the shares had likely risen on bargain-hunting by investors after having seen the price fall sharply in recent weeks.
Fiat’s shares got a boost earlier in the session after the market was encouraged by comments from Chrysler LLC’s [CBS.UL] chief executive in favour of alliances, including the one it has with Fiat.
Gian Primo Quagliano, head of influential think tank Promotor, also said he expected a big drop for the month, with one factor being that February had one less working day than the same month last year.
“We can’t expect an effect from the incentives so soon, the measure was published in the Official Gazette on Feb. 11,” he told Reuters.
In a bid to help the country’s car industry survive the global financial crisis, the government came out earlier this month with incentives for consumers to purchase new vehicles with lower carbon dioxide emissions. Some of the incentives are for more than 1,000 euros for people who buy vehicles that run on alternative fuels like methanol.
For the whole year, the industry has forecast new car sales will fall more than 10 percent to about 1.8 million units. In 2008, they fell 13 percent to 2.2 million units.
In January, new car sales fell 32.64 percent, while sales of Fiat’s three brands dropped 31.3 percent. (Writing by Gilles Castonguay; editing by Karen Foster)