Fiat SpA’s auto unit is likely to have a market share of between 29% and 30% in Italy during February, a senior executive said at the Geneva motor show on Tuesday.

Total new vehicle registrations in Italy last month are forecast to have amounted to 210,000, Gianni CODA, head of Fiat Auto’s main business unit, said, according to Dow Jones, which noted that Italy’s transportation ministry will release figures for February vehicle sales on Wednesday.

However, Dow Jones noted that, while Coda’s estimates could allow Fiat Auto to report volume growth from February 2003, they would represent a decline from the company’s 30.9% market share in January.

New models such as last autumn’s new Panda and restyled Punto have helped Fiat to stem the decline in market share in Italy, where Fiat Auto sees almost 60% of its Western European unit sales, the report added.

Fiat Auto’s unit sales in Italy during January had been “super-strong”, Herbert Demel, the company’s new chief executive, reportedly said at his first international press conference since taking the job in November. Demel added he expected the February market share to confirm positive trends at Fiat Auto.

According to Dow Jones, Demel also said he expects Fiat Auto’s total production to grow less than 10% by volume this year – the company, which is particularly strong in Brazil, sold 1.7 million cars in 2003.

The report said that, according to an unsourced story in the Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper on Tuesday, more than 12% of new vehicle sales in Italy during February occurred on the last working day of the month.

Late-month sales surges often reflect agreements between manufacturers and dealers on discounts to meet targets, Dow Jones noted.

But group chief executive Giuseppe Morchio reportedly said on Friday that Fiat Auto, which is seeking to boost margins after an operating loss of almost €1 billion last year, eschewed such sales completely in January, Dow Jones added.

Dealers in northern Italy reportedly say demand has been high for the Fiat Panda and Punto as well as the Lancia Ypsilon, and also for the Renault Megane, Toyota Yaris and the Citroen C3, all of which have been heavily advertised.