Avtotor and BMW open assembly plant in Russia BMW AG is one of the few companies braving the troubled Russian market with the formal opening of an assembly plant in Kaliningrad. The German automaker, with its Russian partner, Avtotor, began pilot production of the 5-series during the summer. The plant now builds the 523i and 528i and soon will start Land Rover Defender assembly. "The prices are about 22% lower than for the cars we have imported until now," says Wolfgang Schlimme, general manager of BMW's Russian distribution company, BMW Russland Trading. A BMW 523i assembled in Russia will cost about 40,513 euros or $42,925. "It is for sure not easy to beat this price," Mr. Schlimme says. Some 500 5-series also will be assembled this year. The plant's capacity is about 10,000 vehicles. "We think that our minimal expectation of 3,000 units will be fulfilled," says Heinz-Juergen Preissler, BMW's general manager of overseas manufacturing, regarding plans for next year. For BMW, the opening was evidence of the company's belief in the future of Russia, says Henrich Heitmann, member of the board of management. "With our work, we set an example for other foreign companies to follow, and how to approach the Russian market," he says.

Ford to shift Brazil truck production Ford Motor Co. will transfer its Brazil truck production to Sao Bernardo from Ipiranga in the first half of next year. Both cities are in the state of Sao Paulo. The automaker earlier said it was looking at moving the plant to Sao Bernardo, where Ford currently has a plant. Ipiranga is highly populated, and the plant, which was built in 1953, is Ford's oldest in Brazil. The move was suggested to improve productivity and competitiveness, Ford officials say, noting the plant builds about 220 pickups and light commercial vehicles each day. When the suggestion to move first was made, employees stopped production in protest. Workers were afraid the automaker was shuttering the plant and moving it to the state of Bahia, where Ford is building its new small car plant. Ford created a special committee to analyze the alternatives to improving competitiveness at the Ipiranga plant. "Their conclusion: Moving truck production to Sao Bernardo to Campo will grant more benefits than maintaining the plant at Ipiranga," says a Ford Brazil spokesman. "We will now start the discussions regarding the other technical aspects of the transfer. Ford Brazil also agreed to transfer the current employees that are working at the plant (except those on layoff)."

Iran gives nod to auto sector Iran's government is putting new emphasis on the automotive sector, saying it could be the country's top industry by 2003. The government plans to double automobile production and is looking at increasing private investment to fund the growth. Production is expected to increase from 250,000 units this Iranian year (which ends in March) to 500,000 units. The increase is partially fueled by strong demand, which tops 250,000 units annually. Production already has doubled since the country banned private imports three years ago. The government also is supporting greater private investment so automakers will be able to use more up-to-date component manufacturing processes. The plan also is expected to create more jobs in the sector. Some 520,000 people currently work for automakers or suppliers, with 1 million workers expected by 2003.

Smart set to build roadster for 2002 DaimlerChrysler AG's youngest and most-troubled division, Micro Compact Car (MCC) AG, willadd a roadster to its one-car lineup come 2002. It is set to meet its sales goal for 1999, and the marque officially will be launched in Japan during the second half of 2000. There is a 100% chance of Smart building the roadster concept car that the automaker unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show in September, says Juergen Hubbert, DaimlerChrysler AG board member in charge of the Smart division. "We need two-and-a-half years to develop the car," he says. The roadster was created in just five months and looks highly desirable inside and out. Mr. Hubbert says the vehicle will be built in both right- and left-hand drive and sell for around $16,500 (DM30,000), or 25% below the base versions of the Fiat Barchetta and Mazda MX-5. The Smart roadster combines the rear-engine mechanical package of the coupe with a longer wheelbase. Michael Mauer, who styled the Mercedes SLK and now heads Smart's design studio, penned the new 2-seat roadster's exterior.