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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Revving up Russia's car industry
The Russian-made Volga
Volgas will be a common sight in government car parks
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By Martin Ritchie in Moscow
line

Russia's motor industry has been given the Kremlin seal of approval.

Under a new patriotic policy, Russian bureaucrats will have to drive locally-made cars.

The Volga, an upmarket car produced since Soviet times, is to make up at least 80% of the government's fleet.

The rest of the Kremlin's vehicles will consist of BMWs built in the western enclave of Kaliningrad and Fords made near St Petersburg.


The auto industry here has reached a standard high enough for members of the authorities to use only cars made on Russian soil.

Vladimir Kozhin
Kremlin property manager
The changes will be introduced gradually over the next three years, when existing vehicles come up for replacement.

Vladimir Kozhin, the Kremlin's chief property manager, said the plan underlined official support for Russia's car industry.

"The auto industry here has reached a standard high enough for members of the authorities to use only cars made on Russian soil," he said.

Economic factors

But economic factors have also played a part in the move. A top-of-the-range Volga can still cost less than a third of what Russians pay for a basic BMW.

The sturdy car has been produced in various forms for over 30 years.

In the motoring hierarchy of the Soviet Union, it occupied a place well above the Lada but below the Zil, an oversize car loved by Communist Party apparatchiks.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Muscovites have become accustomed to the sight of the all-black Mercedes and BMWs belonging to the country's new elite.

Boris Nemtsov
Boris Nemtsov tried to get bureacrats to use Volgas five years ago
However, this is not the first time that Russian officialdom has experimented with measures to reverse this trend.

In 1997, the then Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov tried to boost his patriotic credentials by forcing the Russian elite into Volgas.

What he described as an "emotional" move fell through.

Solidarity with the people

A source close to Boris Nemtsov, now leader of a liberal political party, said, "I think it's important that the Russian Government show some solidarity with the people, and drive Russian cars.

"But hardly anyone supported us then. Yeltsin signed the order that everyone should drive a Russian model, but he himself kept his Mercedes. So no-one else bothered to change".

Despite this precedent, the Volga's manufacturer - the company Gaz based in Nizhny Novgorod - warmly welcomed the move.

Spokewoman Lilya Petrova said: "If people in the Kremlin drive this type of car, then Russians know that the car is something to be proud of."

Former President Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin was too fond of his Mercedes to give it up
This decision follows hot on the heels of other official attempts to support the Russian car industry.

Last month, the Minister for Industry, Science and Development, Ilya Klebanov, said he would encourage Russian car manufacturers to produce competitors for mainstream European models by 2010.

Less than two weeks ago, the Russian Government announced it would also impose import tariffs on second-hand foreign cars.

If the current plans are taken more seriously than Boris Nemtsov's, the Kremlin car park is expected to be fully "russified" some time in 2006.

See also:

27 Jun 01 | Business
General Motors signs Russia car deal
20 Jun 98 | Europe
Russia's road revolution
14 Feb 02 | Business
Russia's retail growth
14 Nov 01 | Business
Russia's recovery in the spotlight
17 Mar 99 | The Company File
BMW plans Russian investment
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