After a few weeks hiatus, we now continue on our Trans-Siberian railway adventure! Last time I took you to the shores of Lake Baikal, today we are moving across the lake to Ulan Ude, 455 km East of Irkutsk and my last stop in Russia before I cross the Mongolian border to the South. And even though this is one of the smallest hops of the trip, again a fascinatingly different car landscape awaits…
Firstly it is useful to remember that Ulan Ude is the first (and only) truly Asian city I have visited in Russia. Much of its population descend from the Buryat people, which is the largest indigenous group in Siberia. Ulan Ude also houses the biggest Lenin head in the world, so please forgive its over-exposure in this Photo Report but it made for interestingly symbolic pictures…
If in Omsk and Tomsk one third of the cars circulation were right-hand drive used Japanese cars, that ratio rapidly increased to half in Krasnoyarsk and two thirds in Irkustk - let’s keep Lake Baikal aside. So you don’t think it could go any higher? You’re wrong. If we remove the numerous minivans sprawling the centre of the city (mainly the SsangYong Istana, its twin the Mercedes MB140, GAZ Gazelle and Peugeot Boxer), around three quarters of all passenger cars being driven in Ulan Ude are so from the wrong side of the vehicle…
The Toyota Allion is the favourite here and has been for a while judging by the various generations still very present in the Ulan Ude traffic. Other successful nippons include the ever-present Toyota Probox, Honda Airwave, Toyota Corolla Fielder, Caldina, Opa, Carina and Ipsum. I also spotted one Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. However I haven’t spotted any used Korean imports here.
The other main (somehow reassuring) characteristic of the Ulan Ude car landscape is the return of the Zhiguli! Absolutely everywhere in all forms and generations, and more so than in any city I have visited so far. The Ulan Ude car park could actually be described very easily as 75% of Japanese imports, 20% of older Ladas, mainly Zhiguli but also the Oka which had never been that frequent in my trip, Priora and 110, and only 5% of newer models. Many more bruised and battered cars in Ulan Ude than there were in Irkutsk, that’s for sure.
In line with the strength of the Zhiguli, I see the Lada Granta take the lead of new car sales in Ulan Ude, followed closely by the Hyundai Solaris and potentially the Renault Logan, very popular as a taxi. Third main specificity of the Ulan Ude landscape and a complete novelty so far in Russia: the near-absence of smaller SUVs. I saw a few Nissan Qashqai, Mitsubishi ASX and Outlander but that’s about it.
Only the bigger and badder SUV survived in Ulan Ude, namely the Toyota Land Cruiser, Prado, Lexus LX or Nissan Patrol. In the Chinese aisle, I spotted a couple of lonely Lifan Breez and Solano. Oddly enough, as we get closer to China, Chinese models become rarer.
After Ulan Ude I took the bus South to cross the border with Mongolia on my way to Ulaanbaatar, and I have one scoop for you from the Russian side of the border: you’d be hard pressed to find any Russian models, new or old, at all! A quick survey showed that of all cars parked on the Russian side, 90% were used Japanese imports!
And this concludes the first 10 articles dedicated to the Russian part of my Trans-Siberian Railway long-term Photo Report. Next is Mongolia where I am staying for a few weeks so I will be able to give you my first impressions on the car market there, and then dive a little deeper into the specificities of the Ulaanbaatar car landscape as well as some more remote parts of the country.
Hope you enjoyed Russia, next stop Mongolia!