Over the next few weeks I will be taking you on a trip through Trans-Siberian railway, stopping along the way in various Russia, Mongolian and Chinese cities to observe the vastly different car landscapes each time. The last stop was Kazan in Tatarstan, and we are now travelling a further 940 km East to Yekaterinburg in the Ural region.
The Yekaterinburg car landscape is once again very different from the cities I’ve explored before. It’s a mix of less Ladas, more sedans, some brand new models I had not seen yet in the country (not even in Moscow) and the big novelty: used right-hand drive Japanese imports… Jump in for the full report!
A couple of friends in the industry had told me that the more I would get East, the more Japanese the car landscape would become in Russia. Well Yekaterinburg is literally at the border of Europe and Asia and this phenomenon has already started, which is quite amazing when you look at a map of Russia: even though Yekaterinburg is some 1.800 km (1.100 miles) East of Moscow, it is still way closer to the capital than it is to Vladivostok where these Japanese models hit Russian shores, an enormous 7.300 km (4.500 miles) away!
Vladimir from the #1 Russian magazine Za Rulem even told me this fascinating story when I met him in Moscow: in Eastern Russia, it used to be much cheaper and easier to import used Japanese cars (with the steering wheel on the wrong side!) than transfer Russian cars from Moscow or St Petersburg. Even the police drove right-hand drive cars, and a move to driving on the left of the road was considered for a while given there were more right-hand drive Japanese cars than left-hand drive Russian cars in the streets! This never occurred and the government has now made it easier to transfer cars around he country and is trying to encourage consumers to buy local with the opening of Mazda and SsangYong assembly plants in Vladivostok.
There is no one used Japanese import model that is particularly popular, it is simply another layer that is inserting itself into the daily traffic. Most of these imports are mini MPVs, used as taxis or passenger cars – cars like the Honda Spike or Toyota Ist. But there was one model that left me speechless (yep, that happens) as I had absolutely no idea what it was. It’s called the Toyota Will Cypha, a short-lived attempt at a youth-oriented range in Japan that formed the basis of the Scion brand adventure in the US.
Which new cars are the most successful in Yekaterinburg? The big surprise here is the popularity of the current generation Opel Astra, in 3 formats: coupe, hatchback and notchback. They are literally everywhere which is all the more surprising given there doesn’t seem to be a heritage of strong sales for the nameplate, not many older generations remain on the streets. Granted, the Astra may not be #1 in Yekaterinburg but I would definitely place it on the podium along with the Hyundai Solaris, probable leader, and the Kia Rio, both much more frequent in their sedan variant here. The Renault Logan is not far off these 3 leaders.
Yes you have read well, the Lada Granta is not on the podium. Don’t get me wrong, it shouldn’t be too far off but it was much less ubiquitous than in Kazan. The Largus has had a good start here, in line with the national Top 10 ranking it is claiming at the moment. Which are the older Ladas I saw most often in Yekaterinburg? Definitely the Priora and 110 with the Samara a close third, and the Zhiguli and Kalina following at a distance. This is a surprising observation as I thought the more I would go East, the more Ladas I would see. Again this may be biased by the fact that I stayed in the centre of the city.
So far, Yekaterinburg is the city I saw the most novelties, sometimes for the first time in the country. I saw three new generation Skoda Octavia, one Citroen C-Elysee and three VW Golf VII, all being the firsts in the country so far, two Peugeot 301 and two Peugeot 208 vs. only one of each in St Petersburg prior to this, two Lada Kalina II vs. one in Kazan before that and two new generation Toyota Corolla, the same as in Kazan while I saw none in St Petersburg nor Moscow… Would the Russian dealership network put a priority on smaller Russian cities before delivering their all-new models to the capital? Or is broader Russia more fond of novelties? If you know something I don’t please comment on this article!
Like in the rest of the country so far, Yekaterinburgers are very fond of small SUV: the Kia Sportage seems to be a favourite, with the Opel Mokka and new generations Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander already very well installed in the Yekaterinburg traffic along with the Renault Duster, Hyundai ix35, new gen Santa Fe, Nissan Qashqai, Juke, SsangYong Actyon, new gen Honda CR-V and Pilot.
Apart from the Opel Astra, the models I definitely saw more often here than in the cities I visited before are the Daewoo Nexia in its current generation, potentially due to its production centre Uzbekistan becoming closer, the Peugeot 408, a true success in Yekaterinburg, new gen Mazda6, Toyota Camry, Venza and Hyundai Elantra, as well as the ante-diluvian UAZ “Bukhanka”, originally from 1965 and still very much in use thank you.
I thought by leaving Moscow I would have to say goodbye to big luxury SUVs. Not so. The new generation Range Rover has already made many Yekaterinburgers very happy, along with the Infiniti FX, almost at every street corner in the city centre, the Lexus RX, LX, Mercedes GL and Nissan Patrol.
Another thing I thought is that I would progressively see more Chinese models as we get closer to that country, but not (yet?). If anything I saw less of them than in Kazan. Two stand out: the Great Wall Hover and Lifan X60, not surprisingly both SUVs. For once there were more Lifan Solano as passenger cars than taxis, I saw a few Lifan Smiley, Chery Cielo, Very and Bonus, two FAW Besturn B50 (the firsts I saw in the country), one new generation Chery Tiggo, one Lifan Breez (aka 520) and one Chery QQ6. Passing by chance near a Great Wall dealership I saw one FAW V5 which means FAW and Great Wall have the same distributor.
That’s it for Yekaterinburg! I hope you enjoyed the trip. Next stop: Omsk in Siberia.
Yekaterinburg, Russia – September 2013 rough estimate: