Western European car sales market rose 2.7% during the first two months of 2006, indicative of rising consumer confidence levels across the region, according to analyst CSM Worldwide.

Italy (+8.7%), Germany (+4.2%) and France (+1.7%) are setting the trend for upbeat demand in 2006 as Spain (-1.4%) and United Kingdom (-9.7%) reported slow-downs.

Grande Punto demand has helped Fiat join VW in setting the growth pace. Both automakers have registered double-digit growth (16%) since the start of the year, fuelled by new models competing in high-volume segments.

The new Fiat is currently the best selling car in western Europe, however key competitor vehicles are not far behind. Ford, Renault and PSA have all invested heavily in this competitive small car segment in order to limit the growing ambitions of Asian competitors.

On average, the Grand Punto represents 50% of total Fiat brand sales volumes. CSM Worldwide has forecast that Fiat brand sales will reach over 1.1m units in Europe this year, continuing the automaker's recovery.

In 2005 Fiat Group banked EUR1.55bn of GM's money; strengthened its light commercial vehicle partnership with PSA, formed strategic alliances with Ford, Tata and Zastava; and unveiled the Grande Punto at Frankfurt.

United Kingdom launch activities included VIP parties and a vehicle display inside the famous Harrods department store in London. The new model also achieved a five-star safety rating from EuroNCAP and won numerous awards including the "Golden Steering Award" in Germany.

Looking forward, Fiat must further develop sales outside of its domestic market in order to lessen the dependency of new vehicle demand in any one country - two-thirds of its western European sales are currently made in Italy.

In 2005, domestic market share reached 30% in comparison to less than 5% in France, Germany, Spain and UK. On the other hand, Fiat continues to enjoy high demand in the developing markets of Poland and Turkey.

Russian revival plans are also being developed.