Russian History


The Automotive Industry

In 1993 Russia's automotive industry produced 956,000 passenger automobiles, a decrease from the 1991 figure of 1,030,000 automobiles. During the Soviet period, the industry had gained a reputation for extremely slow production of very unreliable vehicles. In the mid-1990s, the plant rated most efficient, the Volga Automotive Plant (Avtovaz) at Tol'yatti, required about thirty times as long to assemble an automobile as the leading plants in Japan. All Russian vehicle plants operated at far below capacity, with outmoded machinery and bloated work forces. Avtovaz, the most productive plant, operated at about 70 percent of capacity, and the Gor'kiy Automotive Plant (GAZ) in Nizhniy Novgorod was the only other major plant operating above 30 percent in 1995. The two main truck manufacturers, the Likhachev Automotive Plant (ZIL) in Moscow and the Kama Automotive Plant (KamAZ) in Naberezhnyye Chelny, have suffered especially from reductions in orders by their main customers--the armed forces and collective farms. GAZ has successfully marketed a light truck, of which it sold 75,000 in 1995, mainly to small businesses. The traditional Soviet truck was a heavy diesel model with limited service life.

Although demand for passenger automobiles has increased substantially in Russia over the last twenty-five years, output has not responded even in the post-Soviet period. In 1994 only eighty-four autos were registered per 1,000 people. In the mid-1990s, all automobile plants retained the Soviet style of organization, which is incapable of self-financing or effective marketing. The lack of post-Soviet government subsidies has placed most enterprises in danger of extinction. Some Russian enterprises have proposed joint ventures with Western firms, but in many cases the Russian partners lack funding for such ventures. Meanwhile, foreign imports further endanger the industry: in 1994 only 65,000 automobiles were imported legally, but another 250,000 to 500,000 entered Russia illegally. Therefore, most new cars in Russian cities are foreign. (In 1996 government vehicles were exclusively Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Saab, or Volvo). Exports of Russian passenger cars declined in the early 1990s.