Alfa Romeo sales have fallen almost 14% so far this year in its Italian home market but its market share has remained almost stable at 3.6% compared with 3.8% in the first 11 months of 2001, Reuters reported.

Alfa Romeo head Daniele Bandiera told Reuters there was growth ahead with a new engine launching the Fiat-owned brand into the fast-growing European diesel market and plans to enter the US market from 2007.

"We are keeping our market share, or increasing it, in segments which are shrinking despite our strategy of cutting out unprofitable sales," Bandiera told Reuters.

"We have more possibilities for growth with diesel, which is a huge, growing market we weren't in before. With the arrival of our new multi-jet engine, this month we are optimistic about the future," Bandiera added, according to Reuters.

The news agency said Fiat Auto chief executive Giancarlo Boschetti said recently that Alfa Romeo was making progress toward breakeven. Alfa Romeo accounted for about 10% of Fiat Auto sales volume last year, Reuters added.

Reuters said Fiat Auto is investing $US600 million a year to 2005 to launch 10 Alfa Romeo models.

A new version of the Spider is due on sale early in 2003, while in 2005 a new family of Alfa Romeo 156s will be launched in Europe as a preparatory step for a push into the United States, Reuters said.

"We need a couple more months to work out how to distribute most efficiently in the United States because we are not going to set up our own network," Bandiera told Reuters, confirming the brand would re-enter the US market in 2007.

Noting that some Italian politicians and market watchers say Fiat should sell off Fiat and Lancia but fold Alfa Romeo together with its prestigious Ferrari and Maserati brands, Reuters said Bandiera declined to comment on the suggestion.

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