Russia needs cars, so it’s restarting this Soviet-era brand

Little is known outside the former Soviet Union and its dependent countries, Moskvich was founded around 1930 and continued to operate until 1991. As with many car brands from Communist bloc countries, Moskvich struggled with quality problems. Soviet officials cited the 1960s Muskovich 408 engine, which was a 50-horsepower engine, for several flaws, according to the book “Cars for Comrades” by Louis Sigelbaum.

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

Renault also had a controlling stake in Avtovaz, the parent company of the famous Russian car brand Lada. Renault said in its statement this week That the controlling stake was sold to the government of Russia, while its controlling stake in the Moscow plant, where Renault cars were manufactured, was sold to the city of Moscow. Renault left the door open to the possibility of returning to the Russian market later.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote in the newspaper Blog postWhich has been translated by CNN Business. “Therefore, I made a decision to register the plant as one of the city’s assets and to resume production of passenger cars under the historical brand Moskvich.”

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

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The mayor wrote that the company will try to keep all current factory employees working there. The plant will also try to source most of the auto parts from Russian companies. The plant will start producing conventional gasoline cars, but, at some point, it will switch to electric cars, according to Sobyanin’s blog.

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

Moskvich traces its roots to what are considered some of the first Soviet-style cars from the 1920s and 1930s. After World War II, the company began producing cars under the name Moskvich, which means “Muscovite”, or Born in Moscow.

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

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

Some cars made in the communist bloc countries, such as the East German Trabant, found a cult following in the West. The Trabant’s body is made of a material called Duroplast that resembles plastic but is made from a mixture of wood pulp, cotton fibers, and resin.

However, transitions are possible. Škoda, which was made in 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 most famous and profitable brands of the VW Group.

Mark Thompson of CNN Business and Reuters contributed to this story.

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