Fiat estimates production of nearly 17,000 vehicles was lost last week as a result of the mass motorway blockade by Italian lorry drivers, with work only restarting this morning (30 January).

The huge strike involved Fiat plants being paralysed at Mirafiori, Cassino, Melfi and Pomigliano d'Arco, as irate truck drivers protested against severe austerity measures being introduced by the Italian government in bid to cut the country's enormous deficit.

"It [was] 4,200 cars per day for days, which is 16,800 units," a Fiat spokeswoman told just-auto from Turin. "All our shifts are working now - this morning was the first shift [to] start again.

"It was a lack of component delivery - the trucks were stuck in traffic and did not deliver anything."

Widespread chaos has engulfed Italy for a week - with a nationwide strike also reported in Belgium today against that country's own raft of austerity proposals.

Italian supermarket shelves rapidly emptied as the truckers - furious at rises in petrol duty, toll fees and insurance costs - effectively blockaded much of the country's motorway network.

"Every time the government tries to get new rules, the population that is touched by them try to do the revolution," said the Fiat spokeswoman. "This time they touched some particular interests and they got a strike."

No details of which models were affected by the stoppage are available, but Fiat says this weekend's launch of the new Panda in Italian showrooms went ahead as planned.

Reports in Belgium - where several European automakers are located - indicate massive disruption at the port of Antwerp through which much of the country's trade occurs.

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