We continue on our Trans-Siberian railway adventure: the last stop was Irkutsk in Siberia, this time we are doing a tiny little hop 80 km South East to the shores of Lake Baikal, more precisely in the Litsvyanka village. Granted, there are not many cars here and the vehicle landscape is surely not representative of the region as Litsvyanka is mostly visited by Russian tourists, but the mix of cars I saw was so striking once again than I thought it should warrant an update on its own. Jump in for the full report!
If any of you have had the chance of visiting the Japanese countryside (I haven’t, only saw it in movies), it is probably what it would look like… Blink and you will miss the only vehicles that let me know we were not in Japan: the ever-present Hyundai Solaris, a couple of SsangYongs, Hyundais and Kia and one FAW V5 (featured above), a few Lada Zhiguli hidden in the backyards of some lovely Siberian log cabins, three UAZ Bukhanka and one lonely Renault Logan/UAZ Hunter/ZAZ Tavria/Lada 4×4/Oka and GAZ Volga. That’s it. Apart from those, you would swear you are in Japan as almost every single vehicle here is a right-hand drive Japanese import… And there were hundreds of them around.
It’s simple: I saw way more Toyota Probox than Lada/Zhiguli on the shores of Lake Baikal, and when you take into account the fact that the Probox has only been on sale in Japan for 10 years whereas the Zhiguli’s career started 43 years ago all the way back in 1970 – let alone dominated Russian sales charts for a good 30 of these 43 years, you can appreciate how much of a feat that is.
The Toyota Ist, Ractis, Voxy, Alphard and Nissan Serena (all generations) are also popular here, along with the odd (unrelated to Japan although it is successful there too as an import) Mercedes E-Class coupe a few cashed-up Russians in need of Baikal bliss have brought here.
On the way from Irkutsk to the Lake Baikal, the only Ladas I saw where the couple of police Samaras posted along the road at every village we passed… I even improved my Japanese models recognition skills in Litsyanka: welcome to the Nissan Bassara and Toyota Vista! As I mentioned above, even though there is an FAW V5 featured in the top picture of this article, that’s the only one I saw in Litsvyanka and it’s only up there because it was so brand-new it didn’t even have any license plates yet! – which by the way is rather frequent in Russia, but unthinkable in many other countries in the world.
But wait there are more interesting Baikal facts: not only are Russian car buyers this side of Russia completely in love with used Japanese models, I have now started to spot used Korean imports, which in a way make more sense as they are left-hand drive – as they should be in Russia! This was a little harder to pick when you are focused on checking right-hand drive Japanese models but I did spot one Daewoo Winstorm, and the only country where the Chevrolet Captiva is called that way is South Korea…
Let’s see if this trend gets confirmed in Ulan Ude, on the other side of Lake Baikal and 455 km East of Irkustk, my last stop in Russia before I pass the Mongolian border.
Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars Blog, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.