Russia's car sales may be stabilizing after flat March

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MOSCOW  -- Russian car sales were flat in March from a year earlier, showing some sign of stabilization after two months of declines.

The Moscow-based Association of European Businesses (AEB) lobby group said 243,335 cars and light commercial vehicles were sold during March compared with 244,225 in the same month last year. Three-month sales fell 2 percent to 602 523.

Russia's No. 1 brand, Lada, and second-ranked Renault, both saw sales drop 8 percent. Sales at Nissan, the country's No. 3-selling brand, rose 20 percent in the month.

Car sales have been falling as Russia's economy falters and people delay making large purchases. Sales are expected to remain weak this year.

The flat March sales follow a drop of 2 percent in February and 6 percent in January. Auto sales were down 6 percent for 2013 as a whole.

February's smaller decline was a sign that a sliding ruble was encouraging consumers to make orders, the AEB said. The ruble has fallen 8 percent so far this year.

The AEB said a year of falling car sales may be coming to an end. "The pace of decline had been less pronounced in recent months, indicating that consolidation is around the corner," AEB Automobile Manufacturers Committee Chairman Joerg Schreiber said in a statement.

"Prevailing thinking among market participants is that the recent spike in market demand was driven by one-time effects which will have a reverse impact on customer activity in the second quarter," he said. "The order banks generated during that spike however should contribute to a further improving [year-on-year] performance of the retail industry in the coming one to two months."

Ford Sollers, a joint venture between Ford Motor and Russian carmaker Sollers, last week said it would cut production and 950 jobs at two of its three factories in Russia due to the country's deteriorating economy and a weaker ruble.

However, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said on Friday he remained bullish on Russia due to long-term factors such as a rising middle class, and shrugged off any impact of Moscow's standoff with the West over Ukraine.

Ghosn was in Moscow to unveil the resurrected Datsun model for the Russian market.

Reuters contributed to this report

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