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by Tim Beissmann

An Italian industry group says low sales of Ferrari and Maserati sports cars in their homeland this year are directly related to the new government’s widely publicised tax fraud spot checks and increased vehicle taxes.

Reuters reports Italian car dealer group Federauto says Ferrari sales dropped 51.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year, while Maserati took an even bigger hit, plummeting 70 per cent compared with the first three months of 2011.

The result has led Federauto chairman Filippo Pavan Bernacchi to call on the government to “step back” from its heightened tax investigations to take the pressure off the country’s automotive industry, which is already under significant strain from Europe’s tenuous financial situation.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti earlier this year gave authorities the power to perform spot checks on motorists, specifically targeting those behind the wheel of expensive luxury and sports cars who seemingly have the most to hide.

Bernacchi said a number of sports car owners were now trying to get rid of their cars or were keeping them hidden away in the garage for fear of being stopped and subjected to a fraud spot check.

Federauto estimates Italy’s economy could lose 105 million euros ($133 million) in revenue in 2012 because of reduced sales of luxury cars.

Bernacchi said Federauto unreservedly supported the fight against tax evasion but “challenges the demonisation of the possession of such property”, and is concerned that “in this sort of witch hunt” it is Italian manufacturers, dealers and their employees that will be hurt most.

Previous Italian governments heightened taxes on boats, helicopters and aeroplanes under a similar principle, but later removed them to limit damage to the economy.

Tax evasion is deeply entrenched in Italian society, although the government is beginning to make inroads. According to the New York Times, last year authorities recovered 11.5 billion euros in uncollected taxes, up more than 200 per cent compared with a decade ago.

The news follows our report from earlier this week that Maserati is targeting 50,000 global sales by 2015 following the launch of its upcoming SUV and mid-sized sedan.




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