UPDATE 2-Russian auto market nudged into global top-10 by pandemic - AEB

(Recasts with top-10 position, other details)

MOSCOW, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Russia edged into the world’s top-10 auto markets in 2020 due to a relatively small drop in sales as the pandemic battered other markets, the Association of European Businesses said on Thursday, citing preliminary data.

Sales in 2020 totalled just under 1.6 million vehicles, down 9.1% on 2019, AEB said, a fall that was cushioned by a post-lockdown rush to buy cars by customers worried by the weakening rouble, as well as cheap car loans and state support.

Russia moved to 10th from 12th place in a global car market ranking based on the number of sales, AEB said in a presentation that showed sales down in all major markets except South Korea.

In Russia, where most top brands have production lines, sales plunged 50-70% during its first and only lockdown from April-May before a stop-start recovery.

Post-lockdown growth was spurred by pent-up demand and the expectation that the year’s 19% fall in the value of the rouble against the U.S. dollar would increase car prices.

Analysts have warned of a imminent sharp fall as that demand wanes and prices rise.

AEB said 2020 had slightly surpassed its revised annual forecast from September, although sales in December fell 2.1% year on year to 166,666 units.

This year sales are expected to rise 2.1% year on year to 1.63 million units, it said, which would equate to the market’s first year of growth in three years.

Thomas Staertzel, Chairman of the AEB Automobile Manufacturers Committee, said the forecast was based on three assumptions.

“...that there will be no new lockdowns... no new restrictive foreign trade measures will be introduced against Russia, such as new sanctions, and that existing state support measures will continue,” he told reporters. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Alexander Marrow; additional reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Alison Williams, Kirsten Donovan, Tom Balmforth)