Russian car slump slows on weak ruble

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MOSCOW -- Russian new-car sales fell 2 percent in February, the Moscow-based Association of European Businesses (AEB) said.

The decline was smaller than the 6 percent drop in January, which reflected a pickup in demand as a sliding ruble encouraged consumers to put in orders.

In total, 206,476 cars and light commercial vehicles were sold last month, the AEB said.

"Retail activity was better than normal for the season, boosted by consumer concerns about weakening ruble and resulting price increases on imported vehicles," Joerg Schreiber, chairman of the AEB, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Schreiber said that the pull-ahead in customer orders should show positively in March sales, but left question marks about the robustness of consumer demand moving into the second quarter of the year.

The Russian market fell by 6 percent last year to 2.78 million units, bringing to an end three years of double-digit growth and delaying the country's move to succeed Germany as Europe's No. 1 market.

The AEB expects full-year deliveries to decline by 2 percent against a weak economic backdrop.

Falling ruble

Russia's economy grew by just 1.3 percent in 2013 and analysts have said action taken to defend the ruble could push the economy into recession.

Russia's ruble has dropped nearly 11 percent this year, a fall that has accelerated because of the escalation of tension in Ukraine. The falling ruble raises the price of imported goods for consumers.

Western automakers including General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen Group and Renault-Nissan have invested heavily in Russia. While auto executives are worried about an extended contraction in sales, they are bullish that the country's rising middle class will support sales in the long term.

Reuters contributed to this report

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