(Adds details of exports, comments from Anfavea president)
By Alberto Alerigi
SAO PAULO, March 7 (Reuters) - Automakers in Brazil ramped up production in February, spurred by strong exports and expectations of recovering sales after a brutal four-year downturn in what had been the world’s fourth-biggest car market.
Automobile production rose 14.7 percent in February from January and surged 39 percent from a year earlier, national automakers’ association Anfavea said on Tuesday. Sales slipped 7.8 percent from January and fell 7.6 percent from February 2016.
Exports in the first two months of the year rose 73 percent from a year earlier to about 104,000 vehicles, the best start to a year on record. Brazil’s auto exports have traditionally been concentrated on neighboring Argentina, but carmakers are pushing to improve access to markets such as Peru and Colombia.
Anfavea President Antonio Megale said exports increased across Latin America in January and February, but it was too early to tell if the pace would be sustained for the full year, which would bring Brazilian car exports to a seven-year high.
Employment in the auto industry also edged up in the month for the first time in three years, adding a few hundred jobs after shedding some 35,000 since the start of 2014. Auto factories in Brazil are still using less than half of installed capacity, as high unemployment and tight credit pinches demand.
Brazil’s auto market, which has shrunk to the world’s seventh largest according to Anfavea, remains a major base of operations for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co.
According to Anfavea data, FCA was Brazil’s top seller of new cars and light trucks in February, taking the title back from GM with around 24,700 sales, ahead of its U.S. rival’s roughly 23,200 new registrations. VW sold about 17,200 vehicles.
Hyundai Motor Co rose from sixth to fourth place with nearly 12,000 sales, surpassing 11,900 from Ford and about 11,100 from Toyota Motor Corp. (Reporting by Alberto Alerigi Jr.; Writing and additional reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)