We continue on our Trans-Siberian railway adventure: the last stop was Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, we are now moving 855km East to Irkutsk, which is 80km off Lake Baikal. And here again a fascinating car landscape awaits… From roughly 30% of the traffic in Omsk and Tomsk to half in Krasnoyarsk, we are now faced with a proper invasion of used Japanese imports! Jump in for the full report!
I have estimated that around two-third of all vehicles in circulation in Irkutsk are coming straight from Japan, complete with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car! This has been one of the most unbelievable evolutions I have witnessed along my trip: starting in St Petersburg and Moscow where absolutely all vehicles are ‘correct’ and left-hand drive, the car park has progressively shifted its steering wheel to the right to reach a very clear majority here in Irkutsk. If in Krasnoyarsk the Toyota Ist was the most popular, here like in Omsk the Toyota Probox is the clear winner, and I have also seen a few with the ‘Succeed’ nameplate.
Before going through the rest of the most successful Japanese imports, it is important to notice the other main characteristic of the Irkutsk car landscape: the predominance of station wagons. Much more so than in any other city I have visited so far, it seems to be a format that particularly fits the needs of car buyers in this region of Russia. In this context, you would assume the Lada Largus is a resounding success here, but weirdly, not so. This trend seems to have confined itself to Japanese imports, to the exception of a few Kia Cee’d and Peugeot 308 SW.
So it won’t come as a surprise then that the Nissan Wingroad and Honda Airwave are by far the most popular Nippon imports in Irkutsk along with the Toyota Probox and Honda Stream. Those very particular Japanese MPVs have also struck a chord here: I’m speaking of the Toyota Alphard, Voxy, Noah, Nissan Serena and other Honda Stepwgn. Other successes include the Toyota Allion, Ractis, Ipsum, Gaia, Regius and Verossa – I saw 2 in the space of one minute here, the same number I had seen since my arrival in Russia, Mitsubishi Mirage Dingo, Dion and Honda Mobilio. The Toyota Will range has now become commonplace: I spotted all 3 models (Cypha, VS and Vi).
If this description kind of sounds like I am in a Japanese city, that’s because it’s almost how it feels being in Irkutsk. There are still hordes of Zhiguli and Lada Classic around, but even the police has gone West, driving in Ford Focus or Fiat Linea. The Lada Samara and Kalina are rare, as are the Granta and Priora that are clean enough to still be considered new. I would still bet on a Top 10 ranking for the Granta here, but just.
On the other hand, I have observed a level of new luxury cars and large SUVs potentially unrivalled since Moscow, in line with Irkutsk’s wealth as the biggest city near the touristic Lake Baikal. The new generation Range Rover is back in force, the Infiniti FX is not limited to the ‘resident’ one anymore: I saw dozens of them in the city, along with Infiniti QX56, Nissan Patrol, Cadillac SRX, BMW 3 and 1 Series, Ford Explorer and F-Series, Dodge Ram and Toyota Tundra…
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Hyundai Solaris should be the best-seller in Irkutsk, once again extremely consistent across absolutely all the cities I’ve passed, much more so than the Lada Granta for example which is an astounding achievement and a big surprise as far as I am concerned.
The main difference in the best-sellers list in Irkutsk compared to the rest of the country is the even keener taste for small Asian SUVs: the new generation Toyota RAV4 is literally everywhere already and could be fighting with the Hyundai Solaris for the top spot overall (yep, that much), while the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Nissan Juke, Toyota Prado, Hyundai ix35, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Suzuki Grand Vitara (in this order) are clearly over-represented here. On the other hand, I didn’t see many Renault Duster.
Vladimir from the #1 Russian magazine Za Rulem told me back in Moscow that Mazda and SsangYong had opened assembly plants in Vladivostok, 4,000 km East of Irkutsk, in order to try and woo East-Russian consumers back to left-hand drive cars. I could spot that influence a little in Irkutsk: the Mazda CX-5 is much more frequent than usual, as are the SsangYong Actyon and Actyon Sports. But it’s not a flood yet, so Irkutskers are clearly not that convinced at this stage.
Another category of cars that seems to be more popular here than in other places are the minis: I saw many Kia Venga, Picanto and Chevrolet Spark. Finally, Chinese company FAW is clearly doing a big push in Irkustk with one FAW V5 exhibited near the central bus station (along with an UZ-Daewoo Matiz) and one I picked in the streets, but so far Chinese models are still very limited in the streets of Irkutsk, with the odd Lifan Solano, Chery Indis, Great Wall Hover and BYD F3 spotted.
Irkutsk September 2013 best-sellers – rough estimate:
This was Irkutsk! Hope you enjoyed and that your ears are not frozen yet, because our next stop is the shores of Lake Baikal whose water temperature rarely goes above 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Farhenheit…
Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars Blog, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.