Top Fiat executive Gianni CODA said on Tuesday that the struggling car maker had improved on its share of Italy’s market in August from July’s 28.7%, Reuters reported.

Speaking at the launch of the new Panda (nee Gringo) mini in Portugal, Coda said the overall Italian car sales market had slowed, according to the report.

“The Italian market is slightly down on last year in August – 5%, maybe a little bit more,” Coda, head of the Fiat and Lancia business unit, told Reuters, adding: “We are still working to meet our target of having 29% to 30% of the Italian market this year.”

In August 2002, Fiat made up 30.2% of Italian registrations which totalled 101,300 units, Reuters noted, but the Italian car firm has struggled with a sliding market share for much of this year, hitting a historic low of 27% in June before bouncing back to 28.7% in July.

Last week, Reuters said, industry watchers said Italian car sales should come in flat year-on-year in August, traditionally the slowest month for registrations as most people head out on holiday, while a brutal heat wave throughout much of Europe also may have had a negative effect on sales.

According to Reuters, Coda also said Fiat had received more than 140,000 orders for its new Punto, launched in early June, and 15,000 for the new Lancia Ypsilon.

Fiat has said it plans to sell 200,000 Panda cars a year from next year and 420,000 Puntos while its target for the Lancia Y is 40,000 this year, rising to 100,000 next year, the report added.

Under an industrial plan unveiled by group chief executive Giuseppe Morchio in June, Fiat is due to launch 15 new cars and six facelifted models by the end of 2006 with another three new offerings already planned beyond that, Reuters noted.