* Gasoline sales up 17.8 percent in 2010
* Strong demand seen continuing in coming months
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Brazilian state oil company Petrobras (PETR4.SA)(PBR.N) said on Wednesday that its 2010 sales of gasoline and jet fuel jumped from the previous year and will remaan strong in coming months as the country’s economic expansion spurs demand for oil products.
Sales of gasoline to the domestic market jumped 17.8 percent as Brazil’s light vehicle fleet expanded, and as higher sugarcane ethanol prices led drivers of “flex-fuel” cars, which run on ethanol and gasoline, to switch to the fossil fuel.
“Expectations for the coming months indicate the market will remain heated, as a result of a larger fleet of motor vehicles” and the end of the sugarcane harvest that often coincides with lower supplies of ethanol, Petrobras said.
Sales of jet fuel rose 16.6 percent from the year before, as Brazil’s expanding middle class boosted air travel.
Brazil, which normally exports gasoline, briefly imported the fuel in 2010 due to a combination of rising domestic demand and limited supplies of ethanol.
A government energy official in November said authorities did not expect gasoline imports in the near future because ethanol inventories had risen. [ID:nN0589669]
Growing fuel demand in Brazil over the long term may limit Petrobras’ ability to become a major exporter of oil and fuel even as it ramps up production at vast offshore fields.
The company plans nearly to double oil output in Brazil by 2020 through an ambitious plan to tap billions of barrels of oil held in deepwater reserves, though analysts say it usually struggles to meet its output targets. (Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Dale Hudson)