Luxury automaker De Tomaso has asked the Italian government for guarantees underwriting a loan request to finance its proposed new operation in Fiat's Termini Imerese plant.

De Tomaso is looking for financial institutions to lend EUR190m (US$262m) for its highly ambitious project to take over part of Fiat's Sicilian plant and start production of two new vehicles that could safeguard 1,500 jobs.

The Italian and Sicilian governments have made EUR450m available to a potential seven firms looking to set up on the Fiat site but, speaking to just-auto at the Geneva Motor Show today (2 March), De Tomaso stressed it required concrete loan guarantees.

"If the government wants me to succeed, it has to provide a line of credit that I will pay back," De Tomaso marketing and sales head Gian Luca Rossignolo said.

"The government - if it wants me to hire 1,500 people - it has to guarantee the entire package. To me, Termini Imerese is an opportunity if there is an entire package but without I am not interested."

Rossignolo maintained De Tomaso could "easily" build 40,000 cars per year in Sicily - with a luxury city and urban crossover model thought to be planned.

However, the luxury car maker requires the EUR190m funding to provide ancillary services such as a sales and service dealer network as it looks to more than double its existing workforce.

"We have 1,100 people today, so the plan requires 1,500 people in four years - it means of course when production ramps up I am going to acquire and hire," said Rossignolo.

News of job creation on such a scale would present a huge fillip to Sicily, which is suffering from high unemployment, and Rossignolo said he haD already spoken to Fiat union FIOM about his proposals.

The hard line labour organisation said recently it would prefer automobile expertise to be retained on the island but Rossignolo went some way to persuading FIOM of its good intentions by highlighting the skilled nature of its workforce requirements.

"What employees are doing now is just assembling components, engines, interiors and chassis," he said. "What I would like to do is make an integrated factory where people have to start using leather, customising cars, and for this I need to reconvert and train those people to new jobs.

"I need very well trained and very well paid people - they can make products with a high gross margin. This is an opportunity for Italy."