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 Yekaterinburg, and we are now travelling almost 1000 km South East to Omsk, the start of Siberia and the place where Dostoyevsky was imprisoned… I have alluded to the strange phenomenon of used right-hand drive Japanese imports in Russia in my last photo report as I started seeing a stream of these in Yekaterinburg… Well it gets better in Omsk… Jump in for the full report!
In Omsk this stream has become a full-on river, and I estimate around 30% of the cars in circulation in the city are used Japanese imports, which means almost one-third of the cars are being driven with the steering wheel on the wrong side! Talk about dangerous driving conditions… The Toyota Probox seems to be the most popular in Omsk, with the Toyota Spacio, Estima, Corona, Corolla Fielder and Runx also very successful, complete with their distinct nameplate badge on the grille: in Japan most Toyotas don’t feature the Toyota logo but a nameplate-specific badge.
But the list doesn’t stop there! It’s simple, choose any model on sale in Japan in the last 20 years (including recent ones) and chances are it is in Russia, at least in Omsk. It was a good test of my Japanese model naming skills, and a few I spotted during the 10 hours I stopped there include the Toyota Nadia, Opa, Ist, Will VS, Raum, Ipsum, Carina, Granvia, Platz, Ractis, Passo and Sienta, Nissan Liberty, Honda Stepwagon and Freed, Mitsubishi Dingo and Mazda Verisa.
One model took me 48 hours and many hairs pulled to identify: the Toyota Verossa, on sale between 2001 and 2004 in Japan… We will see the Verossa again way further in my trip… A fascinating market composition that shows the lengths the Russian consumer is prepared to go for a value-for-money car.
Roughly half of the cars in circulation in Omsk are older Russian models. As far as Ladas are concerned, the legendary Zhiguli/Classic is still commander-in-chief here, with the 2107 “high spec” model the most frequent. Then we have the 110, Samara and Kalina in this order. There are a lot of Volgas of all generations, particularly the last one, discontinued in 2008 but by the spotless look of some you would swear it is still on sale as new here.
I’m starting to see more and more UAZ Patriots as we go further East and less foreign SUVs which is interesting, the UAZ Bukhanka has now become the default ‘non-transport’ van (police, ambulance, post office, banks…) while dozens of yellow GAZ Gazelle swarm the streets of Omsk as marshrutky (minivans)…
This leaves us with around 10 to 15% of relatively new cars in circulation, by far the lowest ratio I’ve seen so far and I’m anticipating it to stay at this level or even lower as I go further East and used Japanese imports become more and more prevalent… Given the small sample and the short amount of time I stayed in Omsk it is tough to give a truly reliable estimate of the best-selling new models but I will venture one nevertheless, and you will see once again it is pretty unique.
I would place the Lada Granta in pole position, but just. During the first few hours I barely saw any and wouldn’t even have placed it in the Top 5 but a sudden Granta-craze at rush hour changed my mind. The Hyundai Solaris is very popular in Omsk as well and I have to say so far this has been the most consistent model across the 5 cities I have visited. Similarly to Kazakhstan which is only 120km away (closer than any other big Russian city), I saw many shining new Lada Priora which could indicate it is still on the podium here contrary to the rest of the country. In fact, if you have a look at the best-selling cars in Kazakhstan last month you start to see a few similarities with the Omsk market…
The big novelty is the Toyota Prado, absolutely everywhere in Omsk and way more popular than in any of the cities I visited so far. In fact, on top of grabbing a massive share of the used Japanese imports, Toyota is doing extremely well on the Omsk new car market: I would bet on the Corolla, Camry and Land Cruiser to all be in or close to the Top 10 here. Other successful new models include the Ford Focus, Renault Logan, Lada Largus, Kia Rio and Hyundai Elantra.
There are less SUVs in Omsk: the Kia Sportage, new generation Toyota RAV4, Hyundai ix35 and new generation Santa Fe stay afloat but the Renault Duster, Nissan Juke and Opel Mokka for example are much rarer than I got used to. Luxury models retain a presence but are much less frequent and limited to the true badass ones… Once again Infiniti is a winner with the traditional resident FX SUV, and I also saw a few Lexus RX, LX, LS, Mercedes ML-Class, GL-Class, E-Class and BMW 7 Series and X5.
We are not yet faced with a flood of Chinese models but I got the distinct impression of starting to see more and more of them in Omsk compared to Kazan or Yekaterinburg for example. I would even go as far as saying the Lifan Solano could have managed a Top 10 ranking here say for one month over the past couple of years. The telling sign is that for once there were much less Solano taxis than passenger cars which is a good indication of the model’s “adoption” by real consumers. I also spotted my first Geely Emgrand EC7 hatchback, along with the traditional Chery Very and Bonus,Geely MK and Great Wall Hover.
I will end this Omsk report by a last weird trait: I saw one Toyota Tundra, Dodge Ram and Ford Mustang in the space of a few hours, all models I had not spotted once in the entire week I have been in Russia! To this point I cannot explain why Omsk consumers would be more fond of American specialties than the rest of Russia, so if you know something I don’t, please comment on this post!
That’s it for Omsk, next stop in Tomsk (yep it’s a different city!), 940km to the North-East and now well and truly inside Siberia…
Omsk September 2013 – rough estimate:
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