VIENNA – Russian President Vladimir Putin joins top managers of Mazda and local auto maker Sollers to celebrate the start of car assembly at the new 50-50 joint venture Mazda Sollers Mfg. Rus in Vladivostok.

Mazda Sollers has launched pilot assembly of the new Mazda CX-5 cross/utility vehicle from semi-knocked-down kits sourced from Japan. Volume assembly begins Oct. 1 at the plant in Eastern Russia. The all-new Mazda6 will be added later.

Mazda is the fourth Japanese auto maker to build cars in Russia, after Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi.

Mazda Sollers will have initial annual capacity of 50,000 units assembled from SKD kits. The JV plans to later add a body shop and paint shop and to double the plant’s capacity to 100,000 vehicles.

“The investment in the joint venture is RR11.1 billion ($350 million) in the first phase,” Sollers CEO Vadim Shvetsov tells media during the ceremony. He says Mazda assembly in Vladivostok could be switched from SKD to complete-knocked-down kits in two years.

Sollers is the first vehicle assembler in Russia’s Far East. It launched SKD assembly of Ssangyong SUVs in late 2009 at its Sollers-Dalny Vostok (Sollers-Far East) subsidiary in Vladivostok.

Shvetsov’s goal has been to attract other Asian auto makers to produce cars in Vladivostok in cooperation with Sollers.

Mazda is not the only Japanese brand to be assembled in Vladivostok. Sollers-Bussan, a 50-50 JV between Sollers and Japanese company Mitsui & Co., is preparing SKD assembly of the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. Shvetsov tells media in Vladivostok that assembly of the SUV will start in early 2013. Initial plans call for about 1,000 builds a month.