Russian Car Brands
Although Russian car brands are nothing compared to German or American ones, they still represent an important player in the global auto industry. Their importance was immense during the communist era, in which cars were exported to all countries of the Soviet bloc. If, for the moment, their notoriety and geographic coverage is reduced, this isn’t to mean that Russian cars aren’t still worthy of mention. In 2010, Russia was the world’s 15th greatest car manufacturer.
Russian Car Brands
Another one of the popular Russian models, the Moskvich is characteristic of the traditional Russian spirit. A rather dull vehicle, its several models (including the 408, 412 and the newer 2142) knew reconnaissance and appreciation nation-wide. With some people claiming that this is the Russian car by definition, and not the Lada, Moskvich is definitely worth of a closer look.
Russian Car Brands
The turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was marked by the invention of the earliest Russian electrocar, nicknamed the “Cuckoo”, which was created by the engineer Hippolyte V. Romanov in 1899. Romanov also constructed a battery-electric omnibus. In the years preceding the 1917 October Revolution, Russia produced a growing number of Russo-Balt, Puzyryov, Lessner, and other vehicles, held its first motor show in 1907 and had car enthusiasts who successfully participated in international motor racing. A Russo-Balt car placed 9th in the Monte Carlo Rally of 1912, despite the extreme winter conditions that threatened the lives of the driver and riding mechanic on their way from Saint Petersburg, 2nd in the San Sebastián Rally and covered more than 15,000 km in Western Europe and Northern Africa in 1913. The driver of the car, Andrei P. Nagel, was personally awarded by Emperor Nicholas II for increasing the prestige of the domestic car brand.
Russian Car Brands
One of the automotive players that are still manufacturing vehicles, Lada used to be a car giant exporting products to all parts of the world, including Western Europe. One of the brands that have embraced western design ever since its beginnings, Lada boasts on a prestige that not many other European car brands own. It’s a true fact: Ladas are no Mercedes, BMW or even Fiat. But their main quality doesn’t reside in exquisite design or impressive performance. Lada is a car that simply gets you from one place to another, by offering basic comfort and manoeuvrability.
Russian Car Brands
The Russian automotive industry can be divided into four types of companies: local brand producers, foreign OEMs, joint ventures and Russian companies producing foreign brands. In 2008, there were 5,445 companies manufacturing vehicles and related equipment in Russia. The volume of production and sales amounted to 1,513 billion rubles.
In the early 1990s the Russian car market expanded dramatically, largely due to a drastic cut on import duties, so that by 1993 foreign-made imported cars made up 49% of all sales. At the same time, Russian automakers were integrated into a market economy and immediately hit by a crisis due to the loss of financial support, economic turmoil, criminal activities and stiffer competition in the domestic market during the 1990s. Some of them, like AvtoVAZ, turned to cooperation with other companies (such as GM-AvtoVAZ) in order to obtain substantial capital investment and overcome the crisis.
The Russian Empire had a long history of progress in the development of machinery. As early as in the eighteenth century Ivan I. Polzunov constructed the first two-cylinder steam engine in the world, while Ivan P. Kulibin created a human-powered vehicle that had a flywheel, a brake, a gearbox, and roller bearings. One of the world’s first tracked vehicles was invented by Fyodor A. Blinov in 1877. In 1896, the Yakovlev engine factory and the Freze carriage-manufacturing workshop manufactured the first Russian petrol-engine automobile, the Yakovlev & Freze.
To boost the market share of locally produced vehicles, the Russian government implemented several protectionist measures and launched programs to attract foreign producers into the country. In late 2005, the Russian leadership enacted legislation to create special economic zones (SEZ) with the aim of encouraging investments by foreign automotive companies. The benefits of operating in the special economic zones include tax allowances, exemption from asset and land taxes and protection against changes in the tax regime. Some regions also provide extensive support for large investors (over $100 million.) These include Saint Petersburg/Leningrad Oblast (Toyota, GM, Nissan) and Kaluga Oblast (VW). Kaluga has been especially successful in attracting foreign companies, as has been Kaliningrad Oblast.
Kamaz, short for Kamskiy Avtomobilny Zavod, is a Russian automobile company that specializes in manufacturing heavy duty trucks and other commercial vehicles. The company although was founded in 1969, began introducing its vehicles late in the 70s. It is one of the best Russian truck manufacturers and has won the Dakar Rally Racing more than thirteen times. Therefore, Kamaz has a good reputation for producing safe, powerful, and reliable trucks. The factory is responsible for producing more than 260 trucks a day, which makes for up to 93,600 trucks per year.
Why It's Awesome: The GAZ 21 was the first to wear the Volga name, way back when in 1956. Now, it's achieved legendary status, occupying the same sort of mythical place in Russian car culture as the Citroen DS does in France. There were various different versions produced during the car's roughly 24-year-long lifespan, some had automatic transmissions, others were the special V8 versions produced exclusively for the KGB. The civilian models were four cylinder machines, producing only 70 hp. On a good day.
The largest company of Russia’s automotive industry is Avtovaz, located in the city of Tolyatti. It currently employs more than 130,000 people, and its Lada models dominate the Russian car market. Avtovaz models account for about 50% of Russia’s total car production.
Another short-lived project was the Yo-mobile, a city car that could burn both gasoline and natural gas and was connected to a pair of electric motors. The car was introduced on 13 December 2010 in Moscow, a product of a joint venture between Yarovit, a producer of trucks based in St. Petersburg, Russia and the Onexim investment group, headed by Mikhail Prokhorov, who was the leader and financier of the project. In 2014 the entire project was sold to the Russian government for a nominal sum, thus signalling the abandonment of the idea. No actual vehicles other than a few concept cars were ever produced.
The beginning of the 1960s saw the release of the Moskvitch 408, intended to be an economy car that would spread the use of cars among the population. Other manufacturers such as MZMA, GAZ and ZAZ were offering a variety of cars intended for the mass market. The Soviet government opted to build an even larger car manufacturing plant that would produce a people’s car and help to meet the demand for personal transport. For reasons of cost-efficiency, it was decided to produce the car on the basis of an existing, modern foreign model. After considering several options, the Fiat 124 was chosen because of its simple and sturdy design, being easy to manufacture and repair.
The Lada is perhaps the most iconic of Soviet car brands in the world, and is still made today by Russia’s AvtoVaz car manufacturer. Lada is actually the brand name used for export, though – at home in the USSR it was known as a Zhiguli.
Why It's Awesome: Introduced in 1971 with a 6.9 liter V8 (the same lump as in the older ZiL-114), the 117 was big and threatening. It resembled Chrysler Imperials of the mid-1960's, but with that Russian automotive magic. The cars produced around 300 hp, which was sorely needed to haul around over 6000 pounds of car.
The most efficient anti-crisis measure executed by the Russian government was the introduction of a car scrappage scheme in March 2010. Under the scheme, buyers of new cars could receive a subsidy of up to 600,000 rubles (20,000 USD). Sales of Russia’s largest carmaker Avtovaz doubled in the second quarter of 2010 as a result, and the company returned to profit.
Avtoframos, the third largest car manufacturer, produced 49,500 cars in 2009. Its plant is located in the south-east part of the city of Moscow. Avtoframos is a joint venture between France’s Renault and the Moscow city administration, but is majority owned by Renault. The company manufactures Renault Logan and Renault Sandero models. The ratio of Russian-made parts is 54%. The figure was expected to rise to 74% by 2012.
The first Russian sports car was manufactured by Marussia Motors. However, in April 2014 the company was disbanded and many employees left to join other companies. The company soon faced bankruptcy and filed several notices of financial difficulties, but was unable to recover hence coming to an end.
The four most popular cars in Russia in 2009 were all AvtoVAZ models. The economy car Lada Priora topped the list with 84,779 sold units. Lada Samara was second with 77,679 units sold in Russia, and the classic Lada 2105/2107 was third with sales of 57,499. Lada 2105 was expected to considerably increase sales following the car scrappage scheme launched in March 2010. The higher-end Lada Kalina was the fourth most sold car in Russia in 2009, selling 52,499 units that year.
While that may be true to some extent – it has to be said that most Soviet car models weren’t exactly exciting – there was much more to Soviet car production than this. Their design reflects a fusion of Western car design and something truly Soviet, and it’s clear that cars made in the Soviet Union are real collectors items today, and will hold an enduring fascination.