Ferrari’s home market is in a shambles even as the company records massive growth in the U.S., China, and India. Italy accounted for only 248 of the black stallion’s sales in 2012, half the number sold there the year before. Maserati’s sales have fallen 80 percent since 2009, but it’s not just Fiat brands that are hurting. Lamborghini president Stephan Winkelmann can count Italy’s monthly sales on one hand. The cause for the collapse goes far beyond the European economic meltdown. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo slammed the government in Rome: “Once again, the exception is Italy, where we have witnessed a drop partly due to the economic crisis, but also to a hostile environment for luxury goods which have long been, and continue to be, an important resource for the country.”
So what hostile environment could discourage thin-soled Italians from buying their own supercars? Pressed for cash and tired of losing an estimated $150 billion a year to tax evaders, Italy’s government started digging around. Last winter, police raided a posh ski town and struck gold. High-end cars were pulled over and their drivers were asked to sit tight while the home office checked tax records. One in six—42 vehicles total—were being driven by someone who had reported a meager annual income insufficient for supercar ownership. It was a PR win for a government under fire for cutting social services it says the country can’t afford. Emboldened, tax cops set up checkpoints in wealthier cities and even dropped in on a Ferrari owners club get-together. The tactics netted dozens of scofflaws, including an F40 driver owing more than $10 million in delinquent taxes.
Even for the drivers of such ostentatious cars, the attention was unwelcome. Tax cheats or not, owners dumped their supercars in droves, venting to news outlets that they were being harassed by police. Come this spring, the situation should settle down. The government is initiating an automated check of tax records for anyone making large purchases. While the checkpoints targeted people who already owned their cars, the automated system should keep the small, financial-enforcement police unit busy enough that it won’t need to staff checkpoints anymore. While legit owners won’t have to worry about being harassed, less-scrupulous Italians are now reported to be buying cars outside of Italy, in cash, and registering them abroad to stay below the radar. Ferraris will return to the autostrada, albeit in smaller numbers.