A government agency closely linked to last week’s announcement of future plans for Fiat’s Sicilian operations, says car producers could be operating on the site as early as next year.

Fiat is to close its Termini Imerese plant by the end of 2011, but government body Invitalia has secured two and possibly three automakers for the island factory. A maximum of three years has been allowed for companies to move into the site.

Invitalia has brokered a substantial amount of money to be made available for several companies to take over Fiat’s operations – EUR350m (US$479m) from the region of Sicily and EUR100m from the Italian government.

The agency has also said this could even be made up to EUR1bn, should expected private investment occur, although it does not elaborate from where this might originate.

Invitalia stresses however, the finance does not come from the European Union and that it is confident of private sector support.

“It is all Italian money,” an Invitalia spokesman in Rome told just-auto. “It is not too much for private investment.”

Two firms – luxury carmaker De Tomaso and EV producer Cimino – have been included in the bidding process but the Invitalia spokesman indicated there could be a third auto manufacturer involved.

“There is a third [company] which is DR,” said the spokesman. “It made an offer when the short list was closed [but] we opened it. It [makes] a small car.”

Invitalia also claimed the unions were pleased with the deal, although one labour body, FIOM, has said it had “suspended judgement” on the agreement until it had examined the detail.

De Tomaso envisages building a new city car and mini-SUV on the Termini Imerese site and is looking to retain 1,500 people currently working there. This would more than double its existing staff of 1,100 employees.