Russian car sales see long-awaited 12% growth in 2017

Moscow: Sales of new cars in Russia grew by almost 12 percent in 2017, ending a four-year slump, an industry group said Thursday.
Car sales saw year-on-year growth of 11.9 percent, the Association of European Businesses said at a new conference in Moscow.

Russians bought 1.59 million new cars last year, with the most popular brands Russian-made Lada and Korea’s Hyundai, followed by France’s Renault.

The growth came after car sales were down 11 percent in 2016 after plunging by 36 percent in 2015 as most Russians found their purchasing power was eroded and struggled to buy expensive cars.

The trend began in 2013 with a 5 percent drop in sales following a record year in 2012 and continued with 10 percent drop in sales in 2014.

“The market has a long way to go (to) return its former strength, but a first and important step in the right direction has been made,” Joerg Schreiber, chairman of the AEB Automobile Manufacturers’ Committee, said.

Sales particularly picked up in December, with year-on-year growth of 14 percent for cars and light vehicles.

Schreiber predicted that the trend for growth would continue — despite uncertainty over government measures such as a tax on imported cars — telling AFP: “I would be surprised if that doesn’t happen.”

With more than 140 million residents, Russia had long been an extremely attractive market for global carmakers such as Renault, the majority shareholder of Russia’s biggest carmaker Avtovaz, which produces the top-selling Ladas.

But the sector, which is highly sensitive to exchange rates, was hit hard by the economic crisis two years ago caused by falling oil prices and Western sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

The Russian government last year continued to support its car industry with a programme that included discounts to farmers, small business owners and families with many children.