Russian carmakers face generation gap at car show


By Simon Shuster

MOSCOW, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Local carmakers took a backseat to foreign brands at the Moscow carshow this week, and a top industry expert said it will take 10 years and a generational shift for Russia's automotive industry to catch up to the West.

Russian carmakers have lost pace with their rivals, targeting annual sales of more than 745,000 units while foreign makers are expected to assemble over 600,000 here and import 1.8 million more.

The leading Russian car brands -- AvtoVAZ's Lada and GAZ Group's Volga -- had only one premiere to show off between them.

They exhibited their standard models in a smaller hall to the side of the main exhibition centres, where international giants such as Audi and BMW touted engineering excellence.

"The technological base of our industry has not been renewed since the 1980s. That's why we are so far behind," Petr Krusov, head of the Russian Carmakers Association, told Reuters.

"It will take a change of generations for this to change. That can start in three years, and it will take as long as 10 years to complete," said Krusov, who was the chief engineer at AvtoVAZ , Russia's largest carmaker, until 2003.

AvtoVAZ, in which Renault purchased a 25 percent stake this year, unveiled its Lada C-Cross on Wednesday, a mix between the standard Lada and a small sports utility vehicle.

"With this car we want to enter a new class...and this car is already pretty big and serious," AvtoVAZ President Boris Alyoshin said at the ceremony, where Russian folk music was played on a fiddle and an accordion.

Around the C-Cross display, Lada, the iconic car brand of the Soviet Union, had displayed only two other models. Four versions of the Lada Kalina and three of Lada Priora, in various colours, filled out the AvtoVAZ exhibition space.

The Volga brand, made by Russia's second-largest carmaker, GAZ Group , was once a status symbol for high-ranking Soviet officials and bureaucrats.

It had only one passenger car on display, the Volga Siber, which is built on the same platform as the Chrysler Sebring. Three Sibers stood alongside two black Volga mini-vans beneath a sign that ran "Made for Professionals."

GAZ was a traditional exporter of Volgas, sometimes used as taxis in Soviet-allied countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Its chief executive said it hoped to boost its positions on emerging markets in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, raising the share of exports in its total revenue to 35 percent from 8 percent now.

Great Wall, an up-and-coming carmaker from China, had a far more dazzling display in one of the larger halls, with about a dozen models of various types standing beside international names such as Toyota.

The master of ceremonies at the Lada C-Cross event played down prospects of Russia exporting the new machine.

"I hope we will see this car in our cities and maybe in the countryside, and maybe even we will see it abroad," she said.

"Maybe," Alyoshin answered.

(editing by John Stonestreet)



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