Automakers halt Russia sales on ruble’s collapse

General Motors, Audi and Jaguar Land Rover temporarily stopped selling cars in Russia this week, deciding that taking a timeout from the market was the best way to deal with the ruble’s collapse.

Automakers are battling a more than 40 percent drop in the value of the ruble since June, Russia’s biggest financial crisis since 1998.

In recent weeks, Russian customers has been snapping up Porsches and other cars to convert their savings into something tangible. That temporary boon for the industry soon turned to a liability as the ruble’s drop ate into what the manufacturers earned from their vehicles.

GM suspended sales to dealers on Dec. 16 to “manage its business risk” in light of the volatility of the ruble, the carmaker’s Russian unit said. GM, which didn’t set a date to resume wholesale deliveries, will deliver Chevrolet, Opel and Cadillac cars that have already been purchased at the agreed-on price.

Jaguar Land Rover said that it had halted sales until Dec. 19 because of the current economic situation.

Audi also halted sales in Russia on Dec. 16. The Volkswagen Group unit will restart after it sets a new price list in the near future, said Aleksey Kozhukhov, a spokesman for Audi’s Russian operations. Audi, the No. 2 luxury-car brand globally, is also halting production at a plant in Kaluga from Dec. 22 to Jan. 12 for a regular holiday break.

Toyota will implement price increases to adjust to the market conditions and is determining when and by how much, spokesman Jean-Yves Jault said. While there are no plans to suspend sales at the moment, completing orders could be affected by the pending price increases, he said.

The ruble’s abrupt drop is “causing major pain,” Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst with Evercore ISI, said yesterday in a note.

BMW, one of the few carmakers that discloses its ruble exposure, may lose €100 million to €150 million ($123 million to $185 million) in earnings in the fourth quarter if the ruble loses half its value, Ellinghorst estimated. Daimler, Volkswagen, Renault and Hyundai probably face an even larger impact, the analyst said.

To reduce its Russia-related risks, BMW began reallocating cars to more attractive markets in early summer, said Nikolai Glies, a BMW spokesman.

The world’s largest maker of luxury vehicles sold 33,465 BMW and Mini cars in Russia through November, a 17 percent decrease from last year. Industry wide auto sales have fallen 12 percent in the first 11 months of 2014.

Volkswagen said it is still selling cars in Russia but is watching the market with concern.