BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2017/11

In 2005, there were just 180 cars per 1,000 people in Russia. Since then, the number of cars has risen rapidly. In the wake of the global financial crisis, subsidies were provided to support sales of new cars. This drove new car sales up to around 2.6 million sales a year in 2010–2014. The economic recession in 2015 led to a drop in car sales to around 1.6 million. Just 1.4 million new cars were sold last year. The stock of cars on the road, however, is expected to keep rising as the number of cars relative to Russia's overall population remains on the low side. The average rate of car ownership in EU countries is about 500 cars per 1,000 persons. The corresponding number for Russia is currently about 315 per 1,000 persons.

A growing share of cars sold in Russia have been manufactured domestically, so the market share of imported vehicles has now shrunk to around 25 %. The growing market and tighter domestic-content requirements have caused the major foreign car manufacturers to build their own assembly lines or take ownership stakes in Russian carmakers. The best-known example is Renault-Nissan's 2014 acquisition of a majority stake in Avtovaz. Avtovaz produces Lada, Russia's top-selling make. The latest on the scene is Daimler, which announced in February that it plans to build a Mercedes-Benz car assembly plant in the Moscow region. When Daimler's new plant is included, Russia now hosts 17 assembly plants of foreign carmakers. Over half of all cars sold in Russia are foreign makes assembled domestically.

The new assembly plants have squeezed out some inefficient domestic production, and the car industry now employs fewer than 190,000 persons. Production of all types of vehicles and parts employs almost a million Russians, and accounts for slightly less than 15 % of all manufacturing jobs. In recent years, the car industry has joined the ranks of industries given top priority under the government's subsidy programme. In 2017, some 62 billion rubles (€1 billion) were earmarked in the federal budget for the automobile industry to be allocated via a range of support programmes. The government's goal is two-fold: support domestic production and increase exports of Russian-built cars. Assembly plants currently have little interest in exporting, because production is geared specifically to the Russian market. The weakening of the ruble has not significantly improved the competitiveness of Russian cars on international markets, because most components are still imported from abroad. In 2016, Russia exported 68,000 passenger cars, or about 50 % fewer than in 2014.

From the start of this year, all cars sold in Russia or imported to Russia are required to be equipped with a Russian ERA-GLONASS alarm system. The requirement is particularly costly for imported used cars. Such domestic regulations do little to boost export efforts.