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Russia plans to make VIP limousines for its officials

April 10, 2013, 16:58 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Attempts to make Russian officials use office cars of domestic manufacture, which have been made repeatedly since the Boris Yeltsin presidency, may eventually end with success, if the plans for mass-producing “limos for the bureaucracy” materialize. The idea of making a domestic car for officials pursues a two-fold objective. The authorities want to bolster patriotism and also give an impetus to the domestic automotive industry amid market stagnation.

The Nizhni Novgorod automotive giant GAZ is prepared to implement a project called Cortege, which envisages creation of a limousine for the country’s top officials, and also a mass model for civil servants of a lower rank, the owner of the group Basic Element, Oleg Deripaska, said in Nizhni Novgorod.

“If a client wishes to ride about in a car of domestic manufacture, we are prepared to meet the demand. We have solutions, which are now just to be finalized. Although this is going to be not a very cheap undertaking. In the final count we shall deliver a product that will be used not only for occasional solutions, but as a car for bureaucracy,” Deripaska said.

There are plans for designing a family of cars for the top officials, including a VIP limousine, and a line of commercial vehicles (including a minivan) on the same platform.

Alongside GAZ, affiliated with the holding company Russian Machines (which is a member of Basic Element), Nikolai Fomenko’s Marussia Motors company addressed the Industry and Trade Ministry with its own proposals for building a car for the president.

The Industry and Trade Ministry is going to hold a bidding contest by August and to name a contractor under the Cortege project. The ministry did not rule out the participation of foreign manufacturers in this project, but only in cooperation with Russian automotive manufacturers.

Back two years ago there were reports ZiL and Renault might pool efforts to produce a Russian VIP limousine.

In the Soviet era GAZ made the Chaika (Seagull) family of cars for government and party functionaries. The vehicles were produced from 1959 through 1988. They were used by all senior Communist Party functionaries, except for the top figures. All Politburo members and secretaries of the CPSU Central Committee were entitled to ZiL limousines.

These days Russian officials prefer well-established foreign brands, mostly of German manufacture. Both the president and the prime minister have more than once said officials must ride about in home-made vehicles.

A similar proposal came from the Economic Development Ministry last month. Deputy Economic Development Minister Mikhail Osievsky said that foreign cars should be the privilege of the country’s top officials and persons who enjoy the protection of the state-run bodyguard service.

“All other officials must use domestic cars,” Osievsky said, adding that he was referring to foreign makes assembled in Russia.

This theme is very topical in the context of the general trend that has been dubbed “nationalization of the elites.” This campaign is also expected to force Russian officials close bank accounts and sell up real estate in other countries.

Also, the Russian authorities have been looking for ways of breathing a new life into the domestic automotive industry amid the general market stagnation. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday visited the Nizhni Novgorod-based GAZ plant to hold a conference on ways of supporting the industry. Russians’ demand for new cars this year is slack and production may begin to shrink.

According to the Association of European Businesses (AEB), Russia’s car market in March slumped four percent against the same month of 2012. The fall affected the sales of domestic and imported new cars and light commercial vehicles. It is evidence of a crisis in the automotive market. As some analysts have remarked, the slump was the first-ever since March 2010. In January-March 2013 the market remained at the level of the same period of last year. The market is balancing between stagnation and recession.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the conference in Gorky the world’s leading automobile manufacturers opened quite a few assembly plants in Russia, and it was one of the main factors for the growth of Russia’s automobile market. Medvedev urged foreign companies not to confine themselves to assembly operations, but to bring their most advanced technologies to Russia.

“We must support the industry and we shall keep doing so. Of course, we shall bear in mind our international liabilities,” Medvedev said. “Some say that the automotive industry development strategy till 2020 needs to be adjusted for the WTO membership factors and the current situation.”