(Adds detail, Renault CFO comments, background)
PARIS/MOSCOW Feb 14 Automakers Renault and Nissan said on Thursday they would create a joint venture with Italian bank UniCredit to sell loans to car buyers in Russia.
The Franco-Japanese alliance will have a 60 percent stake in the venture, while UniCredit will hold 40 percent, the companies said in a joint statement.
The venture "is aimed at further strengthening the alliance's competitive positioning in the Russian car market which is forecast to continue to grow rapidly over the next decade," the companies said.
Although Russia's car market growth has been slowing, it is still expected to overtake Germany as Europe's biggest some time this decade, supported by a growing middle class and booming consumer lending.
PricewaterhouseCoopers expects Russian car sales to increase by 5 percent in 2013, in stark contrast to recession-bound Europe where sales are falling.
Last year, more than 2.9 million new cars were sold in Russia, of which Renault-Nissan sold 352,808 units, giving it a 12 percent market share and making the country an important source of growth.
UniCredit, a relatively small player in Russia, said the venture, which is expected to begin operations by the end of 2013, should help it grow its retail banking operations in the country.
Renault Chief Financial Officer Dominique Thormann told Reuters that three banks had been shortlisted as possible partners in the venture and UniCredit had won.
Renault's financing arm RCI Banque has a similar arrangement with Santander in Brazil and also serves Nissan, he said. (Reporting by Leila Abboud and Laurence Frost in Paris and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)