Ferrari feels the chill of new Italy: Visible wealth is out as corruption is purged. David Bowen reports

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the unforeseen effects of Italy's campaign against corruption is its damaging effect on the country's luxury car market. Sales of Ferraris and other Italian supercars are collapsing in their home market as fast as the careers of the super-rich who used to buy them.

Only 176 Ferraris were sold in Italy in the first half of this year, against 729 in the same period last year - a 76 per cent drop that compares with a 22 per cent fall for the Italian car market as a whole. Largely as a result, motor consultancy DRI/McGraw Hill reckons the company will build 1,880 cars in 1993, against 3,470 last year.

Nigel Griffiths, a DRI consultant, said the anti-corruption drive has made Italians nervous of flaunting wealth. 'In a recession the luxury sector always gets hit harder,' he said. 'But this fall seems too much to be caused just by recession - the sector is down at least twice as much as the rest of the market.'

The fall is particularly marked, given a change in taxation that should have helped luxury makers in January. As part of the single market process, Italy had to reduce its 38 per cent VAT on cars of more than two litres to bring it into line with the standard rate of about 18 per cent.

Only three years ago Ferrari's main problem was rationing output. In the 1980s, it became the ultimate symbol of success and prices of classic racing Ferraris were driven up. The most expensive car ever auctioned was a Ferrari GTO from the early 1960s, sold to a European investor for pounds 6.4m. It was not long before anything with a prancing horse logo found itself riding the wave: many new models had massive premiums as soon as they were sold. In 1988 the road-racing F40, listed at pounds 165,000, was changing hands for pounds 500,000. There were those who said that Ferrari, a Fiat subsidiary, should increase production rather than let speculators take the profit: it refused, holding output at 4,000. That bubble burst in 1990, the premiums disappeared and speculators were left with huge losses. One tried to limit his by raffling five cars at London railway stations.

Mr Griffiths reckons that Ferrari is 'haemorrhaging', and does not foresee any swift recovery. DRI believes Ferrari production will edge up to 2,280 next year.

Sales of all ostentatious cars have plummeted in Italy, though none as far as Ferrari. According to Anfia, the motor trade association, Porsche sales in the first half of the year were down by 57 per cent, Mercedes was down 33 per cent and Jaguar sales were 47 per cent lower. BMW maintained its reputation of cutting through recessions, with sales only 14 per cent lower. Mr Griffiths said this is partly because of the success of the three series, but also because BMWs are not considered as ostentatious. It may indeed have benefited as the glittering rich (at least those who still have their freedom) have traded down.

The Italian figures highlight the success of a maker that used to be regarded a something a joke - Rover. It sold 14,831 cars in the first half of the year, only 2.3 per cent lower than in 1992. Rover is the only volume car maker to have increased sales in Continental Europe this year, thanks to a strong range of models and an overhauled dealer network. Another British maker did well in Italy too - Bentley. Its market went up by 15.4 per cent, thanks to sales of 15 cars instead of 13.

(Photograph omitted)

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