By on October 1, 2013

Over the last couple of weeks I have been backpacking my way along the Trans-Siberian railway, hopping on and off the train and discovering surprisingly different car landscapes along the way. Today I begin a long-term series that will  look at and analyse the cars present in each city I passed.

Each time I took the train or bus I moved between 800 and 1000 km so it’s really like finding oneself in a different country altogether, even though I stayed in Russia for the first two weeks of my trip. I’m not sure yet how many parts there will be in this series as I haven’t finished the trip yet! I hope you’ll enjoy the reports as much as I did creating them.

Russia, Mongolia and China not your thing? That’s fine, you can check out 174 other car markets on my blog.

Back to the Trans-Siberian. Our first stop is St Petersburg, Russia. Jump in!

If you can’t wait for the next report, you can follow my trip in real time here.

1 Opel MokkaOpel Mokka

Straight from the airport car park, the main striking element when looking at the car landscape here is how young it is: cars over 5 years-old are by far in minority! A very fine achievement in a city of 5 million inhabitants. It looks like St Petersburgers have taken full advantage of the scrappage schemes in place in the country over the past couple of years.

3 Hyundai SolarisHyundai Solaris

The second observation about the St Petersburg car traffic is that there doesn’t seem to be any speed limit in the city, or one that has long been forgotten! It’s simple: pedestrians have had to dig tunnels for themselves to go under the streets as it is way too dangerous to attempt a crossing…

4 Kia RioKia Rio

In terms of the St Petersburg car landscape composition, one thing becomes very clear very quickly: the near absence of Ladas! Over the 36 hours I spent in the city, I saw fewer examples of the Lada Granta (8) than new generation Range Rover (20) or Porsche Cayenne (40)! The legendary Zhiguli seems to be an endangered species here, you can still pick a few Samaras but nearly no 110, Priora or 4×4. Volgas are still relatively frequent in St Petersburg streets, mainly as taxis but I also spotted 2 very well preserved 1962 models.

5 VW PoloVW Polo

In fact, an easy way to describe the cars you see in the streets of St Petersburg is to say it’s like you took the 2013 Russian sales charts and removed all Ladas!

2 Lada Zhiguli

Zhiguli in St Petersburg, Russia

The Hyundai Solaris, VW Polo (almost exclusively as a sedan), Ford Focus and Kia Rio should dominate the St Petersburg ranking in this order.

6 Ford FocusFord Focus

The good thing about being ‘in the place’ is that I can now share with you certain recent developments about the Russian new car market and explore it with a lot more depth than the monthly Top 25 models I publish. For example, it became quite clear after a few hours spent in the country that the reason for the Chevrolet Cruze’s current second wind (it is up to a record 4th place overall in August) is the success of the hatchback version, an interesting fact as Russians are still mostly fond of sedans.

9 Renault Logan Chevrolet CobaltRenault Logan and Chevrolet Cobalt

If you’re an SUV in St Petersburg and offer a higher driving position, chances are you’ll be met with success. The Opel Mokka for once is a prime example of this trend: it’s only been on sale for a few months but is already swarming the streets of St Petersburg. Pretty much every other SUV can be spotted repeatedly: Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi ASX, the new generation Toyota RAV4, BMW X1, X5, Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Land Cruiser… you name it, you’ll find it here. Heck even the Renault Koleos and Peugeot 4007 are more frequent than in Paris!

7 Nissan JukeNissan Juke

But the reward for most over-represented model in St Petersburg compared to the national sales charts undoubtedly goes to the Nissan Juke, literally everywhere! It is not uncommon to see 2 or 3 of them parked next to each other, and I would bet on a Top 10 or even Top 5 ranking for the Juke in this city.

8 Infiniti FXInfiniti FX

Luxury vehicles are almost as common as mid-range ones in the centre of St Petersburg. Apart from the staggering amount of new generation Range Rover and Porsche Cayenne I saw, the main takeaway here (and I will end up finding this in most cities) is the incredible strength of Infiniti, almost reaching the status of mainstream brand. Surfing on the SUV craze, the FX is the brand’s most popular model but the entire range is represented with also a strong heritage from the birth of the brand onwards. You can also see many Mercedes M, GL, E, C and new generation A Class, BMW 1 and 7 Series and VW CC and I spotted two Mercedes CLA.

10 Toyota RAV4Toyota RAV4, Lifan Solano and Chery Amulet

A few other surprises: the very high occurrence of current gen Citroen C4 vs. nearly no first generation, including in its sedan variant which I had never seen before. The Kia Cee’d extremely popular especially the station wagon variant as is the Chevrolet Orlando. Other frequently seen models are the Ford Mondeo, Toyota Camry, Skoda Octavia and Fabia (but no sedan) and VW Jetta. I also saw a reasonable amount of Citroen DS4.

11 Lada ZhiguliLada Zhiguli

This trip is also an opportunity to discover ‘in the flesh’ models confined to a certain region of the world. For example the Chevrolet Niva is very common here, I saw my first Peugeot 408, first Peugeot 301 and first Chevrolet Cobalt in St Petersburg. Oh and the Lada 4×4 4 doors and a Samara van which never left Russia… I saw my first ones here!

12 Volga TaxiGAZ Volga

There are a few Chinese models but compared to the next cities I visited they are relatively rare in St Petersburg. Apart from the Geely Emgrand EC7 and Lifan Solano as taxis, I spotted a few Great Wall Hover, Geely MK2 hatchback, one BYD F3 and one Lifan Smily (aka 320).

That was St Petersburg! I hope you enjoyed this first stop. We’re going next to Moscow…

Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars Blog, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.

Estimated St Petersburg September 2013 best-sellers:

Pos Models
1 Hyundai Solaris
2 VW Polo
3 Ford Focus
4 Kia Rio
5 Nissan Juke
6 Nissan Qashqai
7 Chevrolet Cruze
8 Toyota RAV4
9 Citroen C4
10 Kia Sportage

13 Chevrolet NivaChevrolet Niva

14 Nissan QashqaiNissan Qashqai and Ford Kuga

15 Lada ZhiguliLada Zhiguli

16 Citroen C4 SedanCitroen C4 Sedan

17 Kia Cee'dKia Cee’d

18 Renault KoleosRenault Koleos

19 Chery BonusChery Bonus

20 Lada ZhiguliLada Zhiguli

21 Toyota Hilux Mercedes A ClassToyota Hilux and Mercedes A-Class

22 GAZ VolgaGAZ Volga

23 Peugeot 408Peugeot 408 and Lada Zhiguli

24 Lifan SmilyLifan Smily

25 Great Wall HoverGreat Wall Hover

26 Nissan PatrolNissan Patrol

27 ZAZ TavriaZAZ Tavria

28 1962 GAZ Volga29 1962 GAZ Volga

30 1962 GAZ Volga1962 GAZ Volga

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33 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The World: Trans-Siberian Series Part 1: St Petersburg, Russia...”


  • avatar

    Great article Matt. Thanks! What do you sttribute the decline of Lada and other Russain makes in the great city to? Is pricing of the foreign cars that close that people prefer them over the locals? Also, we read a lot about Putin strongarming makers into producing locally. Judging from the pics, that does not seem to be the case or are all those cars produced locally? Like the Cobalt. Is it local or imported from Brazil?

    The C4 sedan is a looker. Right now they’re launching the new, new one. Everybody here is impressed.

    • 0 avatar

      SPB is a city of salt and water, it’s built in a swamp and until the completion of the Kronstadtt dam used to flood regularly. Look at how well rusted that yellow 20011. It’s little surprise that few old cars remain there. However, wait for Matt to hit Samara or Omsk, you’ll see a different picture.

      • 0 avatar
        rushn

        I hardly think floods have anything to do with that. Moscow does not have such problems and yet finding an example of local “avtoprom” is quite a challenge. Both Moscow and SPB have much richer population which means much nicer new cars and wider variety of foreign used cars that even used are better than anything VAZ can offer.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Give me that old Volga to drive around Russia in.

    Looking at some of those Chinese cars, and wow, what blatant rip-offs of other models. Smily? Seriously?

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    As an immigrant from Siberia I eagerly await the rest of the series!! You will find that once you cross the Urals, right hand drive JDM imports really start to take over. More rural areas are still full of (russian) domestic iron, as well as plenty of soviet era Moskvitches, Zhiguli, even air cooled Zaporozhets. Most of my relatives in Altai until the past 5 years or so all drove Russian cars, since then even rural villages are packed with JDM Carinas, Coronas, Caldinas, Mark II, etc. Villages are chock full of old soviet trucks still plugging away: GAZ-53, GAZ-66, ZIL-130, ZIL-131, Kamaz.

    A small correction: it’s not “Lada Zhiguli” It’s either Lada OR Zhiguli, or just the model name VAZ-2105 or whatever it may be. Zhiguli was the old brand name in Soviet times, but the name was too close to “gigolo” in some of the export markets, hence the “Lada” rename. Most people call the Fiat-based rwd cars either “Zhiguli” or “Klassica.” The newer fwd cars, and more so 2110 and up are universally called “Lada.”

  • avatar
    Onus

    Hey Russia nice to see you again. I’ll be back again soon. I do miss my second family, my second home. Also cannot forget about the Russian Banya nothing better when its -30 c outside.

    Anyway on too the cars. жигули usually is only used in reference to the older / original model and not the newer one with the plastic headlights.

    Most Russians hate Russian cars. Well the ones i know at least. Money is a new thing so either the cars are ancient old ones. Those who have something to spend skip the lada and buy a non Russian brand.

    Lada’s are still very very cheap. You can buy a new one for like $6000 usd. Foreign cars cost much more than Russian cars. The cost is more than what we pay here in the US. In import duty is very high at the moment but, it doesn’t seem to be turning Russians away from Imported cars. Though to be honest probably half of imported cars are made locally or made in one of the old soviet states where they get special treatment.

    Cars are also taxed on horsepower (yes they use horsepower in Russia ) and the increase is exponential as you go up. So having a lowered powered cars is good for everyone.

    I would like to own a Niva. Trying to find a 25 year old one that isn’t beat to hell is the hard part.

    In my family they have a Nissan Tiida, Chevrolet Aveo ( the new model we know as the sonic ), and a Lada Granta that was not driven very much it was bought to replace a Renault Logan as something with a Automatic was needed due to driver issues.

    Russian brands are more common outside of the big cities of Saint Petersburg, and Moscow.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      The Russian banya (sauna) really is something else. We missed the one at our dacha so much that my dad, brother and I built one in our backyard in NY! Nothing like running the temperature up to 90C then rolling around in some snow!

      As far as Ladas being very cheap, the gap is much closer than it used to be I think. A fwd Priora is basically $10000, well into Logan territory. the RWD cars were just discontinued, the Granta was supposed to be their replacement, but it is significantly more expensive. You’re right, a rwd 2105/2106 used to go for around $5k, and there was a very steady market for them. Heck if they sold them here I’d buy one as a fun weekend ride!

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        Yeah the Banya is awesome. The first time in i thought i was going to die. On top of that my Girlfriend wanted to put more steam in the dang thing and then insist that i sit on top seat where all the steam goes. Good times. I was in there for two hours. A good run i say.

        Didn’t run into any snow for whatever reason there was plenty outside. I also need to try the black banya where the stove exhaust just goes into the banya even though though that sounds quite unsafe imho.

        Yeah your right the new ones are more expensive but, i was having a horrible time finding the price on the website. I know its on there somewhere but i was in a rush.

        I’d buy one here for 5k also. Heck if something goes wrong who cares?

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I am getting very nostalgic after reading this article and its comments. I am starting to hear in the background the Russian Army choir singing patriotic songs ( like in the movie ” Hunt for Red October”). I am somewhat familiar with old Russian metal as I grew up around it in Romania. Volgas used to be very hard to come by and Ladas even harder. Unless you were a high ranking member of the party or someone connected ( police, secret police, doctor, armed forces officer), you were “punished” by driving Dacia. The Russian cars were held in very hard regard but they were known for being very thirsty. Most people would swap the engine out of Volgas and put a Romanian made diesel made by ARO ( Communist era 4X4 made in Romania ). As for the Ladas, they were a bit treacherous in the winter ( RWD, tires with no tread, no traction control of any kind) but they had great cabin heaters.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    That Chevy Niva…That is a really interesting car, based on the old Lada Niva, it kept it’s exceptional 4X4 drive train and modernized the body. I really want one.
    This promises to be an interesting series :-)

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Check out the UAZ Patriot: modern-ish body on the old UAZ-469 frame/axles. Body on frame, solid axles front and rear, part time 4wd with low range. Available with a diesel even. Exceptionally capable trucks, but with atrocious build quality. They make Ladas look like Toyotas in comparison.

      In general, in Russia there was always an understanding with Russian made cars that they ‘ripen’ with the owner, that is, the owner eventually repairs all of the defects from the factory. ‘Mashina dozrevaet.’ In a recent test drive of the latest Patriot, a fuel line burst, and later a coolant hose blew off due to poorly tightened Chinese hose clamps. Simple repairs, but nobody would tolerate that here, and increasingly so, over there.

      • 0 avatar

        I heard Patriks are actually pretty okay, even after the gradual weaning off Korean parts. Burst fuel line sounds pretty bad though.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Quite the opposite, the latest Patriots have a Korean pushbutton transfer case. Personally I prefer a mechanical lever, but the older Russian transfer cases would constantly fly out of gear and leak. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be mighty tempted to buy a diesel version if they brought it over here, I’d just budget another $3000 or so to get it ‘right’ from the factory.

      • 0 avatar

        Hah! Sounds a lot like Brazil. Specially with 80s cars. My father always bought slightly used 1 or 2 yr old cars at the time, and one of the reasons was exactly that. He said that, besides the depreciation, once you got the used car, the first owner would have ironed out the little things.

  • avatar
    challenger2012

    I was working in Russia on the Black Sea in 2007. I saw a lot of Ford products there i.e. Fusion, Focus, Ranger (Escape). There were a lot of high end cars there, too, BMW, Audi, MB along with plenty of Ladas. I would think with how hilly the land is and how rough the winters are that full size 4×4 pickups would be in demand and thus a good opportunity to expand market share, especially for American makers. Can anyone tell me why this is not happening?

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      Full size pickups are actually not that great off road. They are simply too large and heavy. Russians prefer global pickups you see everywhere other than NA. Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi L200, Toyota HiLux…

      Another reason is registration fees and import duties depend on engine displacement. Not good for American pickups with enormous engines.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      It’s a good thought, but as vvk said, the US trucks actually aren’t that capable offroad (except the raptor maybe). In heavy work environments like oil field exploration and geology outings, they generally use heavy 6×6 army trucks (Ural, ZIL, GAZ), or UAZ 4x4s (452 van, 469 jeep). The UAZ 4x4s are incredibly crude and not even that reliable per say, but they are stupendously durable and their primitive construction is perfect for field repairs. In addition to that they are very affordable, costing around $8000-9000.

      For a lot of siberian roads however, not only is an UAZ inadequate, but even a 6×6 Ural might not cut the mustard. Tracked vehicles (MTLB) make up a part of the fleet in that case.

      Amongst private non-work vehicles, the import duties and tax on an american v8 pickup would be enormous. I’ve seen a few driven around by very wealthy people, but it would definitely not be a mass-market blue collar sort of vehicle. People do care about fuel economy a bit more over there as well (not as much as Europe).

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    Every time I watch one of those Russian dash cam accident video compilations, the worst drivers always seem to be either some real young guy or some old fart driving either an old Lada or a late model Mercedes.

    I’ve seen more Lada Zighulis meet a shattering, crunching end than any other individual car there.

  • avatar
    Joss

    My question if Russians are hardy & basic and used to doing own maintenance & repairs, how well are these modern imports to age? What is dealer support and maintenance like? Would Russians even bother? Is there public or private insurance?

    I think old Russian like Lego or Meccano time.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      A lot of younger Russians are no more capable of wrenching on cars themselves than the current generation of American drivers. The most obvious sign of the times is the largest Russian car magazine ‘Za Rulem’ (Behind the Wheel) featuring more and more expensive European cars, and relegating the DIY repair section to fewer and fewer pages. Most people take their cars in to the dealer for service, the wait can be very long, up to a month.

      In my father’s time, the men spent their weekends in the garage complex (hundreds of 1 car garages with pits grouped together where everyone kept their cars) wrenching on their Soviet steeds. In a command economy, maintaining a vehicle was much harder, but everyone did it themselves. Our Zaporozhets has a custom stainless steel exhaust welded up from scrap metal left over from the construction of a particle accelerator. Oil was ‘acquired’ through acquaintances who had access to construction sites and carried out diesel engine oil by the bucket. Tappets were ground out of T-72 tank treads (very high quality steel), T-72 tank batteries were commonly put in Zaporozhets trunks as well.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “Our Zaporozhets has a custom stainless steel exhaust welded up from scrap metal left over from the construction of a particle accelerator.”

        This is awesome.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Yeah, my dad is a physicist, he was a post-doc back in Akademgorodok when he bought our 966. He also made a booster cable of sorts that allowed him to crank start the car (all Zaporozhets had emergency hand crank starters, right until 1994) with a completely flat battery when the device is plugged into a wall outlet. It still works, and the “Zapor” starts right up when we come to visit and pour some 5 year old gas in the tank and air up the tires. My brother and I really want to get it inspected and drive it to our grandparents’ place near Biysk, recreating a family trip we took when I was 2 years old before we moved to the states.

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        The Russian garages. They are so cheap i may just buy one.

        But i don’t need to an excuse to store crap in another country. But, its so tempting.

      • 0 avatar

        It is a little bit extreme example. I have personal experience of owning cars in Russia in a small town in the late 1990s. I owned garage in the garage complex in a walking distance from my apartment. It had oil pit the feature I am missing a lot. It made repairs easier. In late 90s car owners did most of repairs themselves. There were also professional mechanics who would make more complex repairs for a cash since they had skills and equipment – in the same garage complex. I owned Lada Sputnik which was rolling nightmare but fun to drive, like Jaguar :). I did repairs myself like e.g. replacing brake booster or taking out whole interior to fight the rust, replacing brake pads and cylinders and so on. But I had a lot of time which is not the case in US. My last car was Toyota Carina II which was boring but reliable – I repaired the starter myself – the only issue it had. I would buy parts in local shops or in big city or from dealership. No need to improvise with scraps from theaccelerator and we had a few of them in the town. I was writing SW for a spectrometer on the nuclear reactor in research institute.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    This is funny to see because I came back from St. Petersburg 3 weeks ago. This was my first visit since I left 21 years ago.

    As a car spotter I must say I disagree with some of these observations quite a bit. I lived in the city center and there were some Ladas, mostly 2105/06/07 and 2104 wagon driven around. Many were driven by poorer workers from old Soviet republics. There were still quite a few Samaras with restyled nose and without. 2110/111/112 were often seen as well as Granta and Priora. I even saw a Granta with automatic transmission! Altogether these cars were probably no less than 15% of all vehicles I saw. And that’s center of the city! The further you go out, the more Russian cars you will see.

    Gatchina had not only newer Ladas but even some from first gen as well as a few Moskvitches! These tend to be dying out completely. I saw maybe 5-6 old ones during the entire trip but Aleko 2141 did pop out here and there on occasion. My own happy finds were a beat up Izh Kombi and a Moskvitch 426 wagon with steering column shifter near my old house on Vasilevsky Island. The latter had a note saying “for restoration, not for sale”. Poor owner probably got pestered by potential buyers.

    I even managed to fulfill a 30 year old dream of mine of driving one. Let me tell you, a 2107 with a 1.6L engine wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected! The 2007 Oka mini car I got from my uncle for a day (he has an auto repair shop!) was very purple and very awful in comparison. Nonetheless, the 4-speed, no power steering and choke play made it weird mechanical fun! Some of the first carb’d cars I’ve ever driven. Oh, my uncle has an old Pobeda sedan he is restoring! Got to sit in that but it was not running. Loved every minute of it, even bought a Pobeda convertible model. Realized that going into model car collector stores was a bad idea as it tended to induce drool and empty the wallet quickly.

    Of course my uncle’s mechanics were looking in awe at an American nephew who went gaga crawling and drooling all over old Russian cars scattered around the yard. It was fun to watch them. :)

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      My grandfather had a 1987 Izh Kombi in sky blue that he received new from the factory after waiting for some years in line. He finally gave it away to some friends a few years ago when his eye sight got bad enough to not pass the medical exams (he had already been a bit of a road hazard for a few years before that). Rewelded rear quarter panels, roughly hammered out front fender and repainted with a brush after a small accident in town. The 1.6L slant-4 had a double head gasket to lower the compression ratio, the car ran fine on RON-80 fuel (less than 75 octane by our system). Lots of great memories in that car, hearing my grandma unleash a flurry of obscenities at my grandpa when he’d hit a big pothole in their village, going camping in the Altai mountains, the Kombi wheezing up the passes in 2nd gear.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a good buddy out that way and he just wrote me and told me that he just bought an old Lada like the one in the picture. He’s like me, moves a lot, and at least a couple of times he’s bought some old Russian iron to fix up and have some fun with.

    I keep telling him to send me some photos and answer some questions so I can work up an article…

  • avatar
    stanczyk

    .. wild capitalismus society ! .. there’s a lot of crappy cars and a lot of luxury, nouveau-riche stuff ..
    you can look at this place as a guesttourist , but to live in that junglemess would be impossible ..

    let’s make a contest: which one is worst: chinesse , arab or russian .. nouveau-riche .. ?!? .. (..ohhh I’m sorry: now you should call them suckcesssfull busssinesssman :)


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