Russia is set to become one of the most significant markets in Europe once it recovers from the downturn, according to a key distributor and dealer.

The Rolf Group – Mitsubishi Motor’s largest distributor 40% owned by Mitsubishi Corporation – is forecasting a strong bounce-back following the challenges of rouble devaluation and a drop in consumer confidence. 

“There is no commentator who is not talking about Russia being [one of] the largest car markets at some point,” said group CEO Nigel Hawkins told the Automotive News Europe Congress in Bilbao, Spain. 

However, Hawkins conceded Russia was recovering from a disastrous economic period of currency volatility and a car market that experienced a precipitous 50% volume decline – the largest of any BRIC country. 

But he insisted Russian consumers’ desire to purchase international brands was fueling a rebound. 

“The wonderful thing about selling cars in Russia is the Russian consumer,” he said. “They love to spend – they have absolutely no concept of tomorrow and if they have money in their pocket they spend it today.

“The mortgage market is underdeveloped so the car is what the Russians drool over as it is their escape route. Russians love to spend on products other people don’t have – just remember that and you will do very well.”

Credit availability has been challenging, added Hawkins, as Russian banks had been particularly hard hit but he said consumer confidence was returning. Value for money brands would have their place but he insisted “sexy cars will be back,” as long as financial products were in place to support them. 

Dealers are ripe for development as networks currently are underdeveloped and selling limited product lines, added Hawkins. 

Of equal importance is the while-you-wait service sector and Rolf is working with Kwik-Fit.

“This is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Russian market and it’s almost completely empty,” he said.