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Russia needs cars, so it restarts this brand from the Soviet era


After Renault this week announced its departure from the Russian car market in the middle of the country’s war with Ukraine, Moscow’s mayor announced that the factory will be used to restart the disused car brand Moskvich from the Soviet era.

Little known outside the former Soviet Union and its satellite land, Moscow was founded around 1930 and operated until 1991. As with many car brands from communist bloc countries, Moscow struggled with quality issues. The 1960s Muskovich 408, which had a 50-horsepower engine, was even cited by Soviet officials for a number of defects, according to the book “Cars for Comrades” by Lewis Siegelbaum.

The author simply describes it as a “terrible car.”

Despite these persistent problems, the Soviet government entered into an agreement with the French carmaker Renault to modernize the factory and increase production to 200,000 cars by 1975, according to the book. Production ended when the Soviet Union disbanded and Western automakers, such as Renault, moved in. Part of a former Moskvich plant was reopened in 2005 as a joint venture between Renault and the city of Moscow.

Renault had also owned a controlling stake in Avtovaz, the parent company of the popular Russian car brand Lada. In a statement this week, Renault said the controlling stake was sold to the Russian government, while the controlling stake in the Moscow plant, where Renault vehicles were made, was sold to the city of Moscow. Renault later opened up the possibility of a return to the Russian market.

“The foreign owner has decided to close the Renault factory in Moscow. This is their right, but we can not let the thousands of strong workforce find themselves unemployed, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote in a blog post, which was translated by CNN Business. “Therefore, I have taken a decision to register the facility as an urban asset and resume production of passenger cars under the historic Moskvich brand.”

“In 2022, we will turn a new page in the history of Moscow,” Sobyanin added.

The company will try to keep all the plant’s current employees working there, the mayor wrote. The factory will also try to get most of the car parts from Russian companies. The factory will start by producing conventional petrol-powered cars, but will at some point switch to making electric cars, according to Sobyanin’s blog post.

However, Sobyanin did not specify which vehicle models would be built under the Moskvich name of the former Renault plant in the near future.

Moskvich traces its roots to what are considered to be some of the first Soviet-designed cars from the 1920s and 30s. After World War II, the company began producing cars under the Moskvich name, which means “muscovite” or one resident in Moscow.

Today, around 200,000 Moskvich cars are still registered in Russia, according to the analysis agency Autostat.

In general, cars produced in the centrally controlled economies of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations were not known for their quality.

Some cars made in communist bloc countries, such as the East German Trabant, found cult following in the West. The body of the Trabant was made of a material called Duroplast which resembled plastic, but was made of a mixture of wood pulp, cotton fiber and resin.

Even turning operations are possible. ┼ákoda, made in what was then communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, was taken over by the Volkswagen Group after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now headquartered in the Czech Republic, it has become one of the VW Group’s most popular and profitable brands.

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