The government of Italy’s new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is selling-off its luxury cars on eBay to cut costs and satisfy public demand for an end to extravagance.
In the first wave of sell-offs, there will be 170 of the much loathed “auto blu”, the ubiquitous dark blue executive saloons used to ferry thousands of state officials to work – and in some cases to the shops or the theatre.
Leading the economy drive, or the list of shame – depending on your point of view – is the Interior Ministry, which is hoping to flog 78 vehicles, including 40 BMW 5 Series.
The Defence Ministry has nine Maserati Quattroporte and eight BMWs among the 51 vehicles it has put on the market. In 2011, Ignazio La Russa, then Defence Minister in the final Berlusconi government, attempted to justify the purchase of 19 of the Maserati saloons, each costing €117,000 (£96,600), excluding the cost of armour-plating, and capable of 170 mph. When Mr La Russa was asked why he was spending €2.5m (£2.06m) on cars, while slashing defence spending, he replied that at least the vehicles were Italian.
The Justice Ministry didn’t have this excuse when the Italian press this week queried its decision to purchase a 400 BHP supercharged Jaguar to ferry an official to meetings through Rome’s traffic-clogged streets. The ministry has put this car, plus 20 others, including Lancias, Audis and Volvos, for sale on eBay.
The money from the sales will come in useful, though no-one doubts the symbolic value of the auction is even more important. Announcing plans for the car sale at a cabinet meeting, Mr Renzi said: “Selling off the auto blu is particularly significant for the change in the relationship between government and citizens that it signifies.”
But there’s a long way to go. There are around 60,000 auto blu in Italy, underlining how these chauffeured cars appear to be at the disposal of every tin-pot public official. In comparison, the UK has around 200 chauffeured cars permanently at the disposal of state officials.
And worse, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) has accused the government of deceiving the public. M5S MPs claimed that despite selling 170 cars, new vehicles were due to be purchased under a contract agreed by the government of Mario Monti.