Struggling Fiat's sales in its Italian home market look to be on the up. A spokesman for the Fiat Auto unit told Dow Jones on Wednesday that the brand boosted its market share for the third month in a row - although the Italian car market shrank sharply in December, Fiat managed a 27.6% share compared with 27.4% a year earlier.

The report said however that the increases seen in the previous two months had been more pronounced: Fiat boosted its November share to 28.6% from 27.9%, and its October share to 29.6% from 28.6%.

Dow Jones noted that Fiat introduced new models in 2003 and the spokesman reportedly said that some of them, the small Panda and Lancia Ypsilon in particular, have been well received, even if their full impact will be felt only in 2004.

The report said Fiat Auto has received more than 120,000 orders for the Panda, 58,000 of them within Italy, while the company's latest new model, the Idea small passenger van, goes on sale this month.

The spokesman told Dow Jones that, while the company's sales performance hasn't been overwhelming, Fiat Auto's core focus is on improving the quality of its sales.

The news agency recalled that, in late 2002, a year when Fiat reported operating losses of around €1 billion, Fiat said it would focus on more profitable sales channels, reducing recourse to "zero-kilometre" sales to dealers and boosting sales to retail clients rather than corporate fleets and rental agencies.

The company didn't provide details as to the make-up of its December sales, Dow Jones added.