VIENNA – Shamakhi Avtomobil Zavodu, Azerbaijan’s new car-assembly plant, launches output of the Iran Khodro Samand sedan.

The plant is located in Shamakhi, some 75 miles (120 km) west of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The cars are assembled from semi-knocked-down kits sourced from Iran’s largest car maker, Iran Khodro Co.

“We already have assembled about 100 cars during the trial period,” says Oktay Nabiyev, managing director of Shamakhi Avtomobil. “At the beginning, we plan to assemble some 300 cars per month.”

The new factory initially will assemble 6,000 cars per year and increase annual output to 18,000 units within three years, says Alireza Mirzaei, deputy head of Iran Khodro, responsible for export and international affairs.

The Azeri-assembled Samand cars will sell under the AzSamand brand name in the country. There currently are 10 AzSamand dealerships in Azerbaijan.

There are also plans to export the locally assembled Samands to other Commonwealth of Independent States countries such as Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.

Shamakhi is the first foreign assembly site for the Samand, which also will be assembled in Belarus in June. Additionally, assembly is planned in China, Syria and Venezuela.

Production of Iran’s national car started at the Iran Khodro plant in Tehran in 2001. The auto maker manufactured 71,774 Samands in the Iranian year 1384 (March 21, 2005, to March 20, 2006). Iran Khodro plans to produce some 130,000 Samand cars in the current Iranian year that ends in March 2007.

However, the car plant in Shamakhi is not the only assembler in the Caucasus republic that is to launch output of new models near term. Ganja Avtomobil Zavodu, a plant based in Ganja, 186 miles (300 km) west of Baku, will begin assembling Chinese vehicles from SKD kits sourced from Changan Auto Co. Ltd. and Chongqing Lifan Industrial (Group) Co. Ltd. in late June or July.

Construction of the plant was launched in the 1980s in then-Soviet Azerbaijan. The plant was expected to manufacture commercial vans but was never finished.

It wasn’t until late 2004 that Ganja Avtomobil Zavodu started producing Russian-made Oka minicars in small numbers from SKD kits.

It added SKD assembly of Russian UAZ SUVs and light commercial vehicles, while the Oka was phased out in first-quarter 2006. Only some 560 Oka and UAZ vehicles were assembled.

The cooperation with the Chinese marks a new chance for the plant. Khanlar Fatiyev, managing director of state-owned Ganja Avtomobil, signed contracts in March with Changan and Lifan during a visit to the Chinese city of Chongqing, where both auto makers are based.

Ganja Avtomobil will assemble the Lifan 520, a 172-in. (437-cm) long sedan powered by a 1.6L 4-cyl. gasoline engine sourced from Tritec Motors Ltda. of Brazil, the DaimlerChrysler AG-BMW AG joint venture that is nearing dissolution. Lifan is said to be among bidders seeking to purchase Tritec’s tooling.

Sales of the Lifan 520 got under way in China early this year.

In cooperation with Changan, the Azeris will assemble several minivans and light commercial vehicles.

“We have agreed with Changan’s president that one of the Changan models assembled at our plant will be badged (as a) Ganja,” Fatiyev says.

The assembler, which employs some 200 people, says it will add up to 600 new jobs as a result of the cooperation with Changan and Lifan.

Currently, there are six dealerships selling vehicles built by Ganja Avtomobil. Another 15 dealerships are to be added soon to handle the Changan and Lifan vehicles.

The plant is authorized to export the assembled Chinese vehicles to countries such as Georgia, Russia or Kazakhstan, Fatiyev says.

While Ganja Avtomobil currently works with SKD kits, the company is considering adding a paint shop.