A 1980s Lada From Russia, With Love

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Russians are amazing people. Crazy…but amazing. The fact that they can survive in that kind of cold is enough to tell you how tough they are. Napoleon and Hitler thought it was a great idea to invade Russia, and that too in winters in their respective times, but everyone knows how that turned out. They are a very proud nation and really like their Vodka. I am quite sure you have seen the crazy dash-cam videos from Russia on the internet. Most of the hilarity in those videos can be attributed to the generous use of the drink in their daily life.

The latest news is, well not that latest because it happened a couple of days ago, that Russian Deputy Minister for Industry and Trade Ministry Russia, Ildar Mingaleev along with his posse, met with the members of Islamabad Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Russians showed interest in investing in Pakistan’s automobile sector along with the energy sector. Russian energy company Gazprom is interested in supplying LNG to Pakistan. They talked about constructing a North-Sound gas pipeline in Pakistan by 2020. Russian delegation also talked about making heavy trucks and specialized mechanical equipment including natural gas and LNG equipment.

Also Read: Pentagon Literally Spent Millions Of USD To Make One CNG Station

But what made the news intriguing to me was the fact that they also want to join hands with the local investors to make and sell passenger cars in Pakistan. And first thing that popped into my head was, “A PAKISTANI LADA!!” This brought a huge grin to my face, and one of my friends simply shook his head in disapproval over my excitement for Lada cars. I said to him, “Gotta love Lada!” He replied, “Yeah but it doesn’t make it good.” And as much as I like Ladas, I knew he was right. And it’s not like I actually know anything about Russian cars. Most of my Russian automobile knowledge comes from Top Gear. And everyone knows that TG isn’t exactly known for their unbiased fact based reporting. And a major portion of my Russian car knowledge just says that they are outdated cheap cars. Also, there are more car makers in Russia than just Lada.


I asked a friend of mine who has lived in different parts of the world if he had any experience with a Russian car and he replied, ‘They are like our Mehrans’. He described them as outdated, but they serve a purpose, and also that Russian cars are simply ‘easy to fix cheap transport’. He told me he has driven cars by Lada (AvtoVAZ). Another friend, who has lived in Russia for few years told me the same thing. He said,

“Well they are basic. For the common Lada, it is all about practicality. There is practically no comfort, the doors closed like a bus and it’s not at all about the drive pleasure.”

About the notion that Russian cars are cheap to maintain and reliable, his point of view was that maybe it’s like that primarily because most Russians can fix everything by themselves since they have been around for half a century. About his personal experience with a Russian car, he said the Volga drives like most American cars of the 80’s – more like a boat.

Volga Plant - 1969
Volga Plant – 1969

Russian cars don’t usually come up in the discussion when we sit and talk cars with our auto enthusiast friends but considering Russia ranked at 15th largest car producer in the world in 2010 makes them a major player in the global auto industry. During the communist era, Russian-made cars were being exported to communist bloc as well. Around 600,000 people in Russia are directly employed by the automotive sector. That is a huge number of workforce. In 2010, 9 out of 10 cars sold in Russia were domestic.

Here are few of the famous Russian car brands:

  • Lada – 1966 to present

Lada, officially called AvtoVAZ, is Russia’s biggest car maker. Lada cars were never known for their ‘sportiness’ or ‘luxury’. They were made to transport you from one place to another in Russian winters. The most famous Lada model is the Lada 2105. It was based on an old Fiat 124 sedan. 20 million of those 2105s were sold by 2012 since the start.

Lada Riva
Lada Riva
  • ZIL – 1916 to present

They used to make luxury limousines but now make trucks and buses. I guess making luxury cars in communist times is the brightest idea.

ZIL Limousine
ZIL Limousine
  • Volga – 1964 to present

Volga was a product of an alliance between Ford Motor Co and Soviet Russia. They were famous for making cars that were a bit better than Lada luxury-wise. Russian police use cars made by Volga as well.

1966 Volga GAZ-21
1966 Volga GAZ-21
  • Moskvitch – 1930 to present

Moskvich is basically German Opel. After the Second World War, Russian acquired the Opel car company from Germany and started making Moskvich cars. It’s now owned by Volkswagen group.

1967-1976 Moskvich 400
1967-1976 Moskvich 400

So yeah, Russians are interested to do investment in passenger car sector in Pakistan. But the question is, are they interested in establishing a manufacturing plant here in Pakistan and sell old but purpose-built cars to Pakistanis or just start importing those cars to Pakistan from their assembly plants in Russia and sell here. If it’s the later, importing decades old rebadged Fiat in the shape of Lada, then I am sorry but its terrible idea. I mean it’s just down right stupid. But if it’s the former, making a plant here and assembling and selling those pre-historic cars, then “so bismillah”. Now before you furiously start typing a comment telling me to go away, hear me out.

There are two reasons why I am okay with them making and selling cars like Lada here. The first one is job creation. It’s as simple as that. A new car company setting its operations here in Pakistan is going to hire a lot of people. They will not only employ thousands of people through direct employment but will also create thousands of jobs indirectly (vendors, parts suppliers, dealership network, etc.). And yes, they are going to sell cheap old cars but they will be putting bread on the tables of literally thousands of Pakistanis. So I am perfectly fine with that.

Also Read: Cars Of The 1980’s

My second reason why I am okay with that is that they are going to selling tried and tested, really cheap to buy, cheap to maintain and cheap to run cars. And I think it’s a win-win. I read an article in a newspaper that said Pakistani government charges 30-35% tax on a car like Honda City. This is a ridiculously high amount of tax. It’s borderline extortion, in my humble opinion. A base Mehran costs you what?! Rs 620k or something sans freight and delivery charges?! That is a boatload of money for a salaried person who have to save for years to buy a Mehran. But what if you can get a car, say Lada, that is not only cheaper than Mehran but also bigger in size as well as. So what if Lada is based on a Fiat that was made like 50 years ago?! It’s not like that Mehran is a state of the art hot-hatch. Both Mehran and Lada are old cars and are products of the 80’s. On one hand you have Mehran that costs you more than PKR 635k after registration and taxes. On the other hand you have a Lada sedan that, let’s say, costs something like PKR 500k. I don’t think that Lada is bad deal in this case. So yes, I think a cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain Lada will be better than the new Mehran. But if Pakistan assembled Lada ends up costing like a million PKR or something, then my argument goes down the drain.

My second hypothesis only applies if they decide to sell their older-new cars here. It’s not all doom and gloom. Russian auto makers are also catching up to the modern times. They are coming up with new cars with new times. Some of them that are partly owned by European or American brands are bring out new models and shapes for their cars. Russia has also been producing their very own sports car called Marussia…that went bankrupt, but that’s another story, never mind that. What my point is if a newer-new Russian car is assembled and sold here in the future, I think that can work great for both Pakistan and Russia.

                  Marussia B2 Lada Vesta Lada Kalina II  Lada XRAY Concept Volga Siber 2008 Lada C Concept 2007

But this is all speculation. Maybe all that I have written above doesn’t happen at all, and it was only an exercise; me writing it and you reading it. It is quite possible the Russian delegation had drank their world famous potato drink when they met people from our Chamber of Commerce and next day when they woke up, they were like, ‘what?!’

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  1. bilal says

    Old crap! These old 60’s model will be driven rashly and damage 20 centuries light weight cars,,,, our country is already suffering from pollution in Dec and Jan visibility reaches to 1-2km max.Pakistan is stated under 10 most hottest counties in the world. After emending euro-2 in 60’s car it will never reach green level, as the current standard is euro4 i guess. Look at VW reputation in the world due to emission. Its better to own green riksha instead of owning these cars, only car name is not enough. Our nation desperately needs cars in range of 3-7Lakh and cars such as Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Renault boxter, VW Polo etc too be manufactured locally instead of importing used similar small cars from Japan ,Nissan moco,Suzuki alto etc its bad for our economy+Spare parts issue+ Less Jobs in Auto industry

  2. Guest says

    Some trivia:

    1. Lada is very popular with Egyptians. Even abroad, Egyptians will try to find Lada to buy. In some hollywood movies about middle east, you can see the taxis, undercover vehicles and what not, all are Lada. AFAIR in some James Bond movies you can also see Lada.

    2. As shown in the article, few Russian cars are completely locally developed. Most of them have local nameplate but in essence a rebadge or slightly reworked European (Fiat, Merc) or a result of acquisition (Opel). Consider that Soviet was world power in its time, and Russians have great pride about their authenticity, it is not ironic, but there is a lesson for us. These Opel designs etc. etc. were not so successful in Europe but became successful in Russia. And also exported a lot, specially to African and Middle east/Turkey and nearby (where environmental and safety regulations are less valued and easy repairability is in much demand).
    Pakistan can learn from this approach and select a suitable car, then become an export powerhouse.

    3. A tip, PW Blog could try to cover this story: A Pakistani company tried to assemble a small Russian hatchback called Oka in 1996 or 97. The plan failed. But it would have been available for 2 lakh, much cheaper than Mehran at that time. In fact Oka looks very similar to Alto third gen (the Alto that came in Yellow cab scheme of 1993, as you may know, it was much roomier on the inside compared to Mehran, and also pleasant-looking). AvtoVAz was ready to give LHD, they said to convert to RHD we have to do our own R&D.

    4. Russian vehicles are aplenty in Pakistan. Recently Edhi foundation got many Russian ambulances. PW blog covered it. Many companies have Kamaz trucks (some have prehistoric models and also some companies have brand new). Construction companies have, transport companies do not.
    Many people buy ‘kabli hissa’ of Russian origin for their Bedford TJ truck (hissa means rear axle). It is cheaper and bullet proof. Spare parts for Bedford truck are difficult to come by these days an many many owners would go for alteration.

    5. Russians these days dig Mercs and Mazda. They import a large number of second hand JDMs (LHD converted). Even if you see a housing colony in another country where there is an extreme number of Merc and Mazda, you know Russian expats live here (Dubai Marina anyone).

    6. Russian cars were heavy (they tend to put a lot of steel in everything), rust-prone (quantity of steel, not quality), and fuel guzzler (Russia is an oil-rich and oil exporter).

    7. Russian cars have little in terms of ride comfort. Russians (generally) are able-bodied people and very rough and tough. Traditionally (before the fall of USSR), Russians used to be nationalist (they still are, and we are talking about old times because all these cars come from old times, just like Mehran) and live their life for a higher purpose (nationalism), not for personal luxury. Also because of their version of the philosophy of equality (you can read about it in books of history and also people who worked with Russian expats on large cooperation projects like steel mill, can tell you), getting too much comfort for self was not possible and not favoured. It is doubtful many Pakistani customers would accept the level of travel comfort the suspension and seats of Lada would offer.

    8. Pakistan should avoid designs which have been milked out to full. Rather they should indegenized a modern platform, use it for the next few decades and improve it with newer technology and materials as it goes. Heck, even Germany did it with the Beetle. You know Germany, one of the most advanced mechanical engineering nation with GDP greater than all the OIC members combined. If they find the need to do this, why are Pakistanis supporting an auto policy to change the model after every few years?

  3. Atif says

    The Russian auto industry has been building vehicles (note building not manufacturing) and manufacturing all technically complex components… Modern russian cars are able to meet latest emission standards. Pakistan hasn’t fully even implemented Euro 2 yet (euro 2 compliant cars are available but fuel is yet to arrive)…yes Russia is not comparable to Japan, South Korea or USA in terms but they do have capabilities to manufacture complex automotive equipment and have been able to develop cars totally by themselves.

    In Pakistan engine and complex equipment is all imported. Unfortunately, good localization levels are only reached in Mehran, Bolan, and Ravi – and these are pointless since they are globally obsolete vehicles from 1980s based on ancient technology and even their engines are not yet made in country. For cars like Corolla, Civic, City all transmission, engine, speedometer, sensors, and even glass is imported.

    I support your idea of local industry but here the industry is in the hands of Japanese who are dumping old technology in Pakistan.

  4. Aref Ali says

    As always, a greatly detailed analysis and comment.
    Thank you so much for your time and effort.
    I truly appreciate it.

    Your point number 3 is what I had in my mind when I wrote the blog; a locally made cheaper (and hopefully reliable) car than Mehran. A hatch for 2 lacs in its time.
    I didn’t know about any earlier entry attempt from Russian car makers in Pakistan. It sounds like an interesting story. I need to do some research about it. Thanks for the lead.

  5. Tanweer says


  6. Atif says

    Russia is one of the largest importer of Japanese used cars from what I know. I wonder how these RHD to LHD conversions are done ?

  7. Rahatullah Mallick says

    I heard VW was planning to start here, I am waiting for Golf’s

  8. Guest again says

    Golf is very small from inside.
    A 6 foot person can stretch his or her legs to the maximum and manage to touch the firewall (front seat) in a Wagon R if the seat is adjusted back.
    Not possible in Golf despite larger exterior dimensions and larger engine.

  9. Guest says

    Replace the dashboard, steering rack, wiper assembly, headlights, steering assembly (indicator stalk) position of brake booster and clutch cable, then alter the position of pedals, the switches for window control (from right door to left door), .

    Conversion done.

  10. Guest says

    Thank you.
    I think PW blog is pioneering change. The efforts are not 100% effective right now but in the future, maybe much more effective.

    However when there are small problems like spelling mistakes, this hurts the image of PW blog and upsets me. This is maybe because PW has little to no competition, so there is not much pressure to improve, the only incentive is internal urge for self-improvement. The quality of content is definitely improving viz. the choice of topics, the skill of writers and also the introduction of new writers.

    You could also cover the Proficient. It was a small truck, like Suzuki Ravi. People from previous generation could tell you about that. It suffered the same fate as Adam Revo.

  11. Ali Mehdi says

    you know this is an article in itself. very informative. appreciated

  12. Baber says

    You’re correct. But we try to find people with great grammar and all for editorial position but in the end, can’t find who have interest in cars. I have positions opened for a long while and we just suffer in the end. But your criticism, often taken in spite, is however accepted and you may notice the frequency of articles decreasing just so we could focus more on quality.

    Recently, we have entered into a collaboration with Dawn where PW will be providing automotive content to push auto-journalism in Pakistan and in return they’ll give us editorial feedback and surprising as it was, their editors didn’t have to change a spelling in the Mehran article saying everything was sound so lowering frequency has had positive effects.

    Now that we’re no longer slave to churning out 5-6 posts a day, we can focus and push good content.

    Can you share some links or information on Proficient. I could only gather so much on it. https://www.pakwheels.com/blog/adam-revo-4th-pakistani-vehicle-ever-made/

  13. Rahatullah Mallick says

    Have never sat in one and this might be true but dissing a Golf in favor of a Lada just on the basis of leg space is sacrilege if you ask me, I would rather have a Golf and not any rear passengers

  14. Aflatoon says

    And you think the cars you just mentioned are new technology or design for that matter, that will help us moving forward? These are more ancient than a Mehran..

  15. Sanjay Natarajan says

    Thanks for taking the criticism in a very positive way, I have also already commented my concern regarding the same. Hope the quality of content improves along with the quantity as well.
    While in office, if I get bored I have a list of auto websites to browse through and PW blog holds place among the top 3 in my list. 🙂

  16. Sanjay Natarajan says

    P.S:- I have not criticized here in the above comment 😀 😀

  17. Smokingaces says

    The car in which Jason Borne escapes and runs through the streets of Kiev (Ukraine) is actually a 99 model Volga. Did you see how it makes Mercedes’ upper class jeep sweat like a baby?

  18. Guest says

    Proficient is prehistoric. I am sorry I do not have much information about it. Maybe people from 2 generations ago could tell something.

    About Oka: At that time it was covered in a weekly digest called Weekly Takbeer. The digest was mostly extremely political and international news but suddenly there was this article. More information could be had by visiting the archive (I have no idea if that digest is still under publication).

    About lack of people: 1. Many people would not work for somewhere which is known for poor quality stuff. As it would tarnish their own brand image that they have now started writing in a place where there is poor quality content. But as the quality of articles improves, so will the brand image of PW blog, and it will be easier to attract talent.
    2. The population is very high, but the people who want to work and can produce suitable work are very few. Why not get people and then train them as per your requirement? Sure it will take effort but having someone in the office performing 60% work is better than having nobody.

    About Adam Revo: It had various shortcomings, quality was terrible, shape was ugly, durability was questionable. You know Pakistani customer would walk pedestrian but not accept awkward shape of car. I am all for a good localized vehicle, but pardon me that eyesore.

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