UPDATE 1-Russian car sales flat in March - AEB

Tue Apr 8, 2014 8:53am EDT

(Adds details on individual car sales, background)

MOSCOW, April 8 (Reuters) - Russian car sales were flat in March from a year earlier, a lobby group for the industry said on Tuesday, showing some sign of stabilisation after two months of falls.

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

The flat sales reading from the Association of European Businesses (AEB) follows a fall of 2 percent in February and 6 percent in January. Auto sales were down 5.5 percent for 2013 as a whole.

The AEB said last month that February's smaller decline was a sign that a sliding rouble was encouraging consumers to put orders in. The rouble has fallen 8 percent so far this year.

"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," said AEB Automobile Manufacturers Committee Chairman Joerg Schreiber in a statement.

"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 1-2 months".

The AEB said 243,335 cars and light commercial vehicles were sold during March.

Brands which saw sharp falls included Avtovaz's Lada, down 15 percent so far this year, and Ford, down 27 percent, although Nissan Motor Co showed a 27 percent rise.

Ford Sollers, a joint venture between U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co and Russian carmaker Sollers, last week said it was cutting 700 staff in its plant near St Petersburg due to Russia's deteriorating economy and a weaker rouble.

However, Carlos Ghosn, head of the Renault-Nissan alliance, 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, who heads both Nissan and Renault as chief executive, was in Moscow to unveil the resurrected Datsun model for the Russian market. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Megan Davies; Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Jason Bush and Mark Potter)