Over the next few weeks I will be taking you on a trip through the 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 Omsk in Siberia, we are now moving 940km North East to… Tomsk (hard to not confuse the two but I will do my best). And I am happy to report that at last, the Tomsk car landscape is looking pretty much like what one would expect from Russia… Jump in for the full report!
By this I mean a full blanket of Zhiguli, reinforced by many Lada 110 and Kalina welcomed me as I came out of the train station. Reassuring to see all the Zhigulis are not on the verge of extinction.
In the same vein, the Lada Granta is clearly the best-selling new car here, it has been vastly adopted by taxi companies and the police, which says it all. I saw many new-looking Lada Priora, a tough achievement in a city where most cars seem to get instantly covered by mud, which could still mean a Top 3 ranking for the model which has gone down drastically nationally in 2013.
The remaining podium step should be a tough fight between the Chevrolet Niva, seemingly at its best in Siberia, the Ford Focus which has a strong heritage here looking at the many previous gen models in the streets, the ever-present Hyundai Solaris, very consistently successful everywhere I’ve been, and the Renault Logan which if it does indeed manages a Top 3 ranking should send a big ‘Spasiba’ (Russian for ‘thank you’) letter to all the taxi drivers in the city that have chosen this model.
It has become clearer and clearer as I have gone East that Toyota should be the #2 brand here behind Lada. The Toyota Camry is everywhere in Tomsk, as are the Prado, Land Cruiser and Highlander. Plus I have seen two new generation Toyota Corolla which always stops me in my tracks with my mouth wide open as I have only seen this model in Russia – and also the reason why I wasn’t quick enough to take a few pics…
The other brand clearly more successful here than in the other cities I passed is Subaru, with the XV already noticeable and a broad range of models spanning a few generations. That Subaru and Toyota get more successful as we ‘approach’ Japan (still 6,500 km away mind you) should not come as a surprise but it’s fascinating to actually see it happen before my eyes.
The SUVs are back in force in Tomsk (compared to Omsk), perhaps because we have now entered ‘true’ Siberia and once you leave the city there doesn’t seem to be any sealed roads in sight. And believe me, even though we’re at the end of summer here, it’s already wet and I could see massive ruts on those roads all the way from the train, so a 4WD wouldn’t go amiss here.
The Renault Duster, new generation Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and Nissan Juke (even though technically not a 4WD) are the most popular. Tomsk drivers also seem to have completely fallen in love with the Kia Soul: I saw way more of them than any other city I have passed. I’m also seeing more and more UAZ Patriot, Hunter and Lada 4×4 as I go East, including brand-new ones.
Among luxury vehicles, a very special mention goes to the Lexus RX: I literally saw the current generation at every street corner, a ratio to the overall traffic potentially higher to St Petersburg or Moscow which in itself is extremely impressive. I now got used to the ‘resident’ Infiniti FX and Tomsk follows the trend. Other models I saw more often than in the previous cities I passed include the new generation Chevrolet Aveo sedan, Hyundai Elantra and Skoda Fabia.
Virtually no Chinese cars were spotted in Tomsk, which is a surprise as I thought I would see an increase the further East I went. I saw my first Jinbei Granse here, but the other 4 lonely models (in 36 hours!) were the unexotic Lifan Solano, Chery Cielo, QQ6 and Indis. Still an odd American trait to the Tomsk car landscape with two made in US Toyota Tundra and one Chevrolet Camaro spotted.
Last but not least, on to the Japanese imports. To be honest I was half-expecting the entire Tomsk traffic to be driving on the other side of the road, but not so. If anything I believe the Japanese imports ratio may have slightly declined compared to Omsk but then again I may just be getting used to it by now. Most popular are the Toyota Ist, Japanese spec Corolla, Funcargo and Nissan Primera. Other frequent JDM imports include the Toyota Probox, Spacio, Opa, Noah, Will VS, and I spotted one Nissan Lafesta, one Mitsubishi Delica and… get this: not one, not two but three Toyota Will Cypha, including one in a flashy fluorescent orange robe! I don’t think I could have picked that many in the whole of Japan itself!
Tomsk – September 2013 rough estimate:
That was Tomsk for you, hope the trip was pleasant enough. Next stop: Krasnoyarsk!
Matt is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a blog called BestSellingCarsBlog, dedicated to counting cars around the world.