Toyota has denied on Monday a report in Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera that it was preparing to bid for a Fiat factory in Sicily, which the struggling Italian industrial group plans to close, according to a Reuters report.

According to Reuters, Toyota said in Tokyo there was "no truth to the report while Fiat declined to comment.

Reuters said that Corriere della Sera quoted Sicily region president Salvatore Cuffaro as saying a Nomura banker had asked him if he would be open to meeting a delegation from Toyota.

"I am ready to hear any proposals the Japanese have to offer and I think we'll try to meet later this week," the Milan-based newspaper quoted Cuffaro as saying, according to Reuters.

A spokesman for the Sicily region told Reuters that Cuffaro had met Edward Luttwak, who the newspaper said was advising Toyota, on Monday morning but gave no other details.

Reuters said Fiat is planning to close its Termini Imerese plant near Palermo, as part of a cost-cutting restructure to pull the car maker clear of deep losses and debts which have mounted as its car sales slump.

The proposed closure has been met with anger in Sicily -- one of Italy's poorest regions where unemployment runs high, Reuters said, adding that Italy's centre-right government, which counts on Sicily for many of its votes, has demanded Fiat reopen the plant after a temporary closure.

Reuters noted that selling the plant would bring Fiat much-needed cash but it would also be offering a stronger foothold to one of its fiercest rivals in its core small car segment.

Toyota's sales in Italy have risen almost 17% so far this year, Reuters said, giving it a market share of 5.4%, while, Fiat sales have fallen almost 20%, shrinking its share of the key domestic market to 31% in the first 10 months.

According to Reuters, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said Toyota would ask for Termini Imerese's 1,800 workers to be put on a one-year temporary layoff scheme -- as is currently Fiat's plan -- to give it time to set up new production lines.

Reuters said the newspaper added that Toyota would give jobs to all Termini Imerese's workers who currently produce Fiat's popular Punto city car, and would also bring other technicians and workers across from Tokyo.

Any sale may need the approval of General Motors which owns 20% of Fiat's struggling car unit, Reuters said.

Fiat has the option to sell GM the other 80% of Fiat Auto from 2004, an option analysts say is likely to be used as the car unit continues to be a drag on the group, Reuters reported.