Auto companies should continue doing business in Russia despite British government warnings to the contrary, according to one of Britain’s most senior auto industry executives.

Jonathan Browning, chairman of GM Europe and head of Vauxhall, offered the advice at the Barcelona motor show where he outlined General Motor’s booming sales in Russia.

“If there is risk in doing business in Russia, there’s a lot more risk in not participating when the economy is going so well. Any company that ignores Russia is going to regret it for a very long time afterwards,” said Browning.

“Russia is one of our key 11 global emerging markets with only China ahead of it,” he added.

The booming Russian economy is driving demand for new GM models to record levels, so much so that Browning expects Russia to become GM’s third-biggest market in Europe this year, leaping ahead of Spain, Italy and France to lag only Germany and the UK.

“We’re looking at sales between 200,000 and 250,000 by the end of the year, it is difficult to be more accurate because the market is moving so fast,” said Browning.

As recently as 2004, GM sold just 60,000 units in Russia.

Driving GM’s growth is the value brand Chevrolet, whose Korean-built cars will sell around 100,000 units this year, just under half GM’s total volume.

“We’re also seeing strong sales at the top of our range too, with Cadillac, Hummer and Saab,” added Browning.

He recently attended the opening of a three-storey, multi-brand GM dealership in Moscow, a $US20m investment and which is now selling 1000 cars a month.

Julian Rendell