MOSCOW: Move into the slow lane Moskvitch, Aleko and Lada, the incursion of General Motors, Hyundai and Renault has not only brought a pack of running-dog capitalist auto brands into the former Soviet Union, it has elevated Russia to pole position in the European car market.

Overtaking Germany in the process, Russian car sales in H1 2008 rose 41% to 1.65 million units, reports PricewaterhouseCoopers this week.

"Russia may become Europe's biggest market in 2008 after surpassing Germany in the six months," opines PwC partner Stanley Root.

Spending on autos in Mother Russia hit a record $33.8 billion (€21.47bn; £17.06bn) year-on-year, up 64% thanks to $27bn in sales of foreign makes led by GM's Chevrolet unit and Hyundai, say the beancounters.

According to local auto analyst, Metropol's Mikhail Pak: "Sales will carry on growing at this pace for two or three years as rising incomes fuel demand. Government spending on improving transport infrastructure will also be an important factor."

Russian car sales are set to reach 3.8m this year if the present level of growth is sustained, whereas former champion Germany is forecast to come in well below that figure – around  3.2m, according to estimates from the country's VDA trade association.

PwC says that nine of the top ten overseas carmakers in Russia are US or Asian, and predicts that Russia will account for 20% of global car sales growth by 2015.

Data sourced from Moscow Times; additional content by WARC staff