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Romanian February car sales jump 26% as currency boosts imports

Romanian new car sales rose 26% in February, driven by a boom in imports as a stronger local currency made foreign models cheaper for Romanians.

Sales increased to 18,704 cars in February from 14,887 vehicles a year earlier, according to the Web site of the Bucharest, Romania-based Association of Automobile Producers & Importers. Sales of imports jumped 74% to 12,210 cars while sales of locally made cars fell 18% to 6,494 units.

Romania's currency, the leu, was the second-best performing currency in the world last year after the Slovak koruna, rising 22% against the dollar and 8.9% against the euro. The gain, sparked by an inflow of foreign investment as Romania prepared to join the European Union on January 1, reduced leu-denominated prices of goods brought into the country. Renault SA led the import market in February with sales of 1,907 new cars, the association said. Renault also owns Romanian carmaker Dacia SA, which sold 5,619 new cars in the month.

Romanian Environment Minister Sulfina Barbu said last month that even after two years of soaring new-car sales, the average model in Romania is more than 13 years old. She also announced the government would extend a program from last year to encourage owners of cars more than 12 years old to buy new ones. Barbu said the government will give 3,000 lei ($1,160) to 16,500 owners of older cars this year to help them junk the vehicles and buy models that meet stricter emissions standards. (Bloomberg)