Wed, Aug 15, 2012 - Page 12 News List

La dolce vita ends

Austerity measures and a crackdown on luxury goods are souring demand for sporty cars and other symbols of Italy’s carefree lifestyle

By Tommaso Ebhardt  /  Bloomberg, Milan

It’s all downhill from here.

Photo: Bloomberg

The US$252,000 Ferrari 458 Italia has never been a particularly common sight, even on the autostrade of its native Italy. Today it’s becoming even rarer as austerity measures spur Ferrari owners to export supercars by the truckload.

A crackdown on luxury goods combined with budget cuts that have pushed Italy deeper into its fourth recession since 2001 are souring demand for sporty cars and other symbols of the country’s carefree lifestyle. The number of secondhand high-performance cars exported from Italy nearly tripled to 13,633 vehicles in the first five months of 2012, from 4,923 a year earlier, according to auto industry group Unrae.

“Italy is one of the strongholds of supercars, and those vehicles are now disappearing from the streets,” said Giuliano Noci, associate dean of Milan Polytechnic’s business school. “This has a huge symbolic value and shows how deep the crisis is.”

The exodus reflects weaker overall demand for supercars in the home of Ferrari and Maserati, Fiat SpA most profitable brands. Sales of super-luxury cars in Italy are forecast to plunge 47 percent to 593 vehicles this year from 1,116 in 2008, according to IHS Automotive, which predicts that sales won’t return to pre-crisis levels before 2016.

Monti’s Measures

The government of Prime Minister Mario Monti is implementing US$25 billion in austerity measures as the country grapples with US$2.35 trillion of debt. The economy has contracted for four straight quarters and unemployment has surged to near a 13-year high as consumer spending and industrial output slump.

The downturn prompted Fiat, Italy’s biggest manufacturer, to temporarily halt investments in the country. Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne may close another factory after shuttering a plant in Sicily last year. Weaker supercar demand could further sour Fiat on Italy and accelerate a shift to stronger markets like the US and China.

Marchionne relies on Fiat’s luxury models to offset losses at the group’s mass-market brands in Europe, which totaled US$427 million in the first half. Ferrari and Maserati’s combined operating profit was US$216.5 million in the period, equivalent to 12.2 percent of sales, beating Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s 11.6 percent margin.

Italy has become a declining source of supercar profits after Monti raised ownership levies on high-performance vehicles as part of his budget reforms. After the changes, owners of the US$390,000 Lamborghini Aventador pay about US$10,370 a year in taxes, an increase of US$8,100.

Tax Raids

On top of the extra levies, supercar-owners are being scrutinized in efforts to flush out tax evaders. Since December 2011, Italian authorities have conducted dozens of raids in wealthy areas, including the ski resort Cortina d’Ampezzo and Portofino on the Riviera. The officials stop supercars to check whether their owners declared sufficient income — and paid enough taxes — to support their lifestyles.

Near Venice last month, financial police arrested a 44- year-old man driving a Ferrari F40 for not paying close to US$10 million in taxes since 2006. In a July sweep in the northern town of Bergamo, police found that the driver of a US$247,000 Ferrari F131 had evaded US$3.7 million in taxes since 2007.

“Many Ferrari owners want to get rid of their supercars after the financial police came to one of our events near Rome and checked every driver,” said Fabio Barone, who heads the Ferrari owners’s club Passione Rossa. One of the members put a Ferrari 458 up for sale for US$176,000 after buying it for US$276,000 last year, he said.

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