By on April 3, 2011

After Yemen last weekend, it is now Official Sales Data Week, where we explore a country that has the great idea to give us access to actual sales data, and therefore saves me from looking on YouTube for hours on end in the hope of figuring out a rough sales ranking…

This week we are going to freezing Russia to find out whether Lada models still have the stranglehold over the market they enjoyed in the time of the USSR.

Now if Russian cars scare you (yes, they do that to some people, especially those who saw the Moscow car chase in The Bourne Supremacy) but you are keen to find out which cars are the best sellers in 153 other countries around the planet, simply go here. It’s my blog and comrade, I swear you will love it.

The GFC slammed the Russian car market, which went from a record 2,704,040 sales in 2008 to only 1,465,742 in 2009. That’s a 46 percent drop. Ouch. So (one year late), a cash-for-clunkers program was set in place and (one year late), it worked! The market was up 30 percent in 2010 at 1,910, 573 registrations.

And (for you in the front row that have paid attention) the answer is yes, Lada models, 20 years after the end of the Communist era and the opening of the market to competition, still rule. In fact, the cash-for-clunkers scheme helped Lada more than most other brands, given their range is composed solely of old (and cheap) models. Lada held 24 percent of the Russian market in 2009, climbing to 28 percent in 2010.

The best selling car in Russia last year was the 1979 Lada 2105/2107. Yes. That’s right. I’m guessing most of you that know about this model thought its production had stopped ages ago. I did. So a 30 year-old model derived from the 1966 Fiat 124 more than doubled its sales in 2010 at 136,006 units and grabbed 7.1 percent of the Russian market…

The number 2 model was also a Lada, the Priora. The Priora was launched in 2007 and was the best selling car in Russia in 2009. It lost its title last year even though its sales shot up 26 percent at 125,235 units for a 6.6 percent market share. The Priora hardly gets exported outside of Russia so if you don’t live there, chances are you have never seen one in the flesh.

The number 3 model was a… Lada, the Kalina, the smallest Lada in the range. It saw its sales improve by 79 percent last year at 108,989 units. The Kalina was even the number one car in the country in February 2011. This model can say thanks to the cash-for-clunkers program because since its launch in 2004 and before last year it had trouble getting onto the podium of the car sales ranking. Like the Priora, the Kalina doesn’t get out of Russia much, so I’m betting on the fact that you didn’t even know it existed before you read these lines… Right? Right.

Russia Top 10 best selling cars in 2010:

Pos Model 2010 % 10/09
1 Lada 2105/2107 136,006 7.1% 102%
2 Lada Priora 125,235 6.6% 26%
3 Lada Kalina 108,989 5.7% 79%
4 Lada Samara 101,958 5.3% 13%
5 Ford Focus 67,041 3.5% 29%
6 Renault Logan 62,862 3.3% 17%
7 Lada 4×4 44,635 2.3% 67%
8 Daewoo Nexia 43,943 2.3% 56%
9 Chevrolet Niva 35,380 1.9% 44%
10 Chevrolet Lacetti 31,885 1.7% 9%

The number 4 model last year was a… Lada. Did I tell you Lada ruled?

Now if you live in Europe, Canada and Australia and are an avid car nerd, you should be familiar with the Lada Samara. Originally launched in 1984, it was sold all across the world with varying degrees of success. By 1997 exports stopped for the most part due to stricter emissions regulations. In 2000 the Samara underwent a very light facelift and became the Samara 2, the very car that held the number 4 spot in Russia in 2010. It was number one in 2004-2005 but had to settle with 101,958 sales, only a 13 percent improvement over 2009.

There is one more Lada in the Top 10, the Lada 4×4 which you perhaps know as Lada Niva. This no-frills 4WD launched in 1977 manages a sterling 7th place with sales up 67 percent at 44,635 units.

Right. Now it’s starting to become a bit clearer why Renault’s buying out 25 percent of Lada (or AvtoVAZ as it is known in Russia) was actually a pretty clever move, yes it was.

The best selling foreign model, as it has been 4 of the last 5 years, is the Ford Focus at 67,041 units (+29 percent) followed by the Renault Logan (originally a Dacia model it is sold as a Renault in Russia) with sales up 17 percent.

One more interesting model in the Top 10: the Daewoo Nexia. Daewoo? Just checking that everyone is listening here… Daewoo is dead right? Even in South Korea the brand has been replaced by Chevrolet. Well not exactly. In 1992, the Uzbekistan state owned UzAvtosanoat and GM Daewoo created a joint venture called Uz-DaewooAvto and started producing cars under the name Uz-Daewoo, exporting mainly to Russia. Check here if you don’t believe me. And their best seller is the Uz-Daewoo Nexia, number 8 in Russia last year with sales up 56 percent. The Uz-Daewoo Matiz is number 11 at +31 percent.

So you can brag about how fluent in Russian car sales you are at dinners, at work and at car shows around the planet, I present in exclusivity for you the latest interesting development in the Russian market:

It is the arrival of the Hyundai Solaris (the name of the new generation Hyundai Accent built in Russia for Russians) in the Top 10 for its very first month of sales in February 2011 with 3,406 units changing hands and 2.1 percent share.

Russia Top 10 best selling models in February 2011:

Pos Model Feb % Jan
1 Lada Kalina 9,673 5.8% 2
2 Lada Priora 8,956 5.4% 3
3 Lada 2105/2107 8,598 5.2% 1
4 Lada Samara 6,397 3.9% 4
5 Renault Logan 5,939 3.6% 5
6 Ford Focus 4,860 2.9% 9
7 Lada 4×4 3,904 2.4% 6
8 Chevrolet Niva 3,566 2.1% 10
9 Hyundai Solaris 3,406 2.1%
10 Nissan Qashqai 3,321 2.0% 12

Now which car site makes you look so smart? If someone brags about how GM, Volkswagen, or Toyota roll up the BRIC markets, you can say: “Interesting. Actually, Lada has a near monopoly on that market, with Hyundai making a nice showing.” Just get ready to administer the Heimlich maneuver when you say that.

If you want to look REALLY smart at the aforementioned venues, then of course you need to say: “Moscow is just as much Russia as Manhattan is America.” Meaning: It is not. The Moscow market looks like a mixture of Frankfurt and Tokyo.

Ladas? Based on the last numbers made public (6 months 2009), in Moscow, a Lada seems to be nye kulturny. The Moscovite best seller was the Ford Focus, ahead of the Chevrolet Lacetti (aka Optra) and Opel Astra…

Moscow Top 5 best selling models over 6 months 2009:

Pos Model 6m 2009 %
1 Ford Focus 7,946 5.3%
2 Chevrolet Lacetti 4,196 2.8%
3 Opel Astra 3,462 2.3%
4 Mazda3 3,390 2.3%
5 Mitsubishi Lancer 3,258 2.2%

That’s it for today! If you want to know all about the best selling models in Russia each year since 1970 simply go here: Russia Historical Data.

For the 2010 Top 25, and monthly rankings since September 2010 simply go here: Russia.

All data sourced on AEB, Moscow data sourced on

Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.

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48 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: 30 Year Old Lada Remains Russia’s Darling...”

  • avatar

    So all it tells us is that 1. ridiculous protectionist tarrifs exist that WTO really should have been dealing with and 2. giant gap in wealth exists between Moscow and the rest of Russia. Russia really is a great banana republic with nukes.. a pithy phrase that probably insults Brazil.

  • avatar

    I saw a Kalina last week here in Sweden and the Niva is still finding new customers. After all when the importer offers both wood and snow camoflauge paint, who can resist?

    • 0 avatar

      I would buy a Niva in a heartbeat. And put it next to my two Explorers (only the v8s mind you) and my 3 Subarus. Cant wait for winter and the chance to see how it stacks up. I’m betting it will be fine. It’s always struck me as being so so cute. (Izzat the right description?) Does anyone know… does the Niva still use that funny aluminum 4 cyl chain driven OHC Mercedes knock off engine that Datsun also used years ago? I haven’t been keeping up. (Obviously)

  • avatar

    Nice article, Matt. It brought back memories of my time stationed in Holland with the US Air Force and my Dutch neighbor who had one of those Lada/Fiat incarnations. He and I spent a lot of time tooling on it in my garage. Two of the ills we cured with that monstrosity, with the help of JC Whitney and Company (mail order), was the fuel pump and the ignition system. I converted the mechanical fuel pump to an electric one (that cured about 25% of the breakdowns) and the ignition system to a transistor-controlled one, using the points only as the trigger (that cured another 70% of the breakdowns). For the leaking carburetor, waterpump, seals and gaskets we were at the mercy of the local dealership’s parts department. Even so, this Lada was hardy and better spartan transportation than the DKW, Trabant, NSU and Skoda vehicles of that same era.

  • avatar

    Thank you for  the fond memories. I lived and worked in Moscow from 1992 to 1997. I bought a brand new Lada Zhiguli 06 for about $6k US. I had a Fiat 124 sedan (and a few spyders) here in Colorado back in the mid-1980s (and a Datsun 510), so it was like wearing an old comfortable shirt again. At the time, one-year old Ladas brought as much (or more) on the used market as new ones. The original owner had a year to fix all the things that were wrong with the car when it left the factory. My second car in Moscow was a Niva 4X4 — good during Russian winters, but not as fun to drive as the Zhiguli. I wish it was still profitable for a car company to make an affordable entry-level sedan, front engine, RWD.  I miss my Lada, Fiat and Datsun.

    The car chase video was pretty much an everyday commute when I lived there.

  • avatar

    I remember going to Canada back in the mid eighties and seeing those Ladas all over. Back then I thought seeing a late model Fiat 124 was too cool. Too bad they can’t be grandfathered past safety and emissions regulations. To have that as a brand new car would be the shit. I’d have one in a heartbeat!

  • avatar

    Looking at the photos, I am thinking – those Ladas look like my Fiat 128.  Then I read twotone’s post!  I miss my 128, too!!!

  • avatar

    I actually owned a Niva.  For six weeks.  The less said, the better, but it was not the result of my political leanings, but rather that a) it was very cheap, b) the dealership was close, and c) a Finnish family friend had unreal luck and had what was probably the only Signet in Canada that actually worked well**, day-in-day-out.
    ** she later bought a Samara after that car was wrecked.  It also ran more or less trouble free.  I have no idea how she achieved it.

  • avatar

    The Kalina and Niva were for sale here in Finland, and I’ve even test-driven them. They managed to sell several about two hundred of them before the imports stopped in 2009. Before that, we had the 110, Samara and the RWD models.
    Ladas used to be bestsellers from the 1970s to early 90s, but after the RWD models were withdrawn in 1997, the sales collapsed in a couple of years. The 110 was the final nail in the coffin – it was a truly atrocious piece of automotive engineering, devoid of any redeeming qualities. It’s a shame that the Russians didn’t update the classic models to EU standards – dirt-cheap, small RWD cars always manage to find a buyer.

    • 0 avatar

      ” It’s a shame that the Russians didn’t update the classic models to EU standards – dirt-cheap, small RWD cars always manage to find a buyer.”
      In Germany Lada offers the following:
      The offered Lada Niva fulfills the Euro 5 emission standard. Neck-breaking acceleration (0-100 km/h (0-96 mph) = 19 secs.). Prices start at 11,400 Euro (ca. 16,300 US$).

  • avatar

    Ladas would have done no wong during the late 70s in Republik of canuckstan if the Generale had not had too many glasses of klear Smirnoffs, God forbid he pushed the red button to have the Korean airline 007 shotdown over Kamchatka Peninsula! Very sad, so many folks perished.
    that really didnt help any Ruskies image. Back then Ladas were selling like hot cakes, flying off the shelf in TO. They were sold new for $2000 plus change, probably a grand cheaper than any Toyondas, and people can still relate it as something European from the Mother country and also a direct descendat from Fix It Again Tony. Probably our man Sergio may have his first drive in one of these ladas.
    Fast forward a few more yrs, the Niva or Cossacks 3WD were supposed to be real mountain goats, they could go anywhere regardless of roads or no rds.
    One dude up in norte del  Canuckstan  here has a Niva with rear axle welded together as non slip rear diff. He said it could go anywhere.
    Some rumours told the Niva was designed quietly by Porsche.

  • avatar

    Ford’s not new to Russia. In Stalin’s era the Ford Tudor was the NKVD’s choice of car for snatching people off the streets.

    • 0 avatar

      Another propaganda victim… Sigh…

    • 0 avatar

      Far too expensive, even for the NKVD.
      As far as I remember they used the Moskvitch 400 (aka Opel Kadett) for their daily errants (as, e.g., snatching people, etc.). Pic:

    • 0 avatar

      Model A Fords were still being made in Russia in the 50s by GAZ

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for the news from the parallel universe my friend. In this world however, it was somewhat different.
      Ford-A and B derived models were done with by 1942. And right after the WWII (in this world it happened between 1939 and 1945) they started making a totally new design, that was 100% their own.
      In the time of NKVD there was no Moskvich 400, as it was a post-war model, when there was no such thing as NKVD. And no, they DID NOT snatch people off the streets. Even if your comic book says otherwise.

  • avatar

    A few notes: these contraptions are popular only in European part of Russia. For a few simple reasons. People are poor. And domestics have a huge advantage of backyard serviceability. With most basic of tools. Qualified dealers/shops and parts (un)availability in rural areas. Those who manage to earn a bit more than average instantly get into an import not to never return to a domestic “product” again.
    But once you cross the Urals – it is a whole different world. And as you go closer to the Pacific,  the number of any domestic cars falls to 0. There is a common joke that there is good sense in changing traffic there, as basically 100% of all cars and trucks are second hand RHD Japanese imports.
    And the video… In these days the guy would make much better progress on foot as all roads would be clogged with non-moving traffic.

  • avatar

    I learned driving on a Lada. Biggest POS. Truth in advertising… the speedo was marked in km/y (h was upside down) which is what it felt like trying to merge on the 401. Built like a brick sh*thouse by 2 russians. Sloppy, breezy and could withstand a nuke.

    • 0 avatar

      km/y = kilometers per year. A more accurate representation of Lada “acceleration.”

    • 0 avatar

      In case anyone is wondering about the joke, “hour” in Russian begins with a “Ch”, which looks exactly like a lower-case h turned 180 degrees. Or a y :D
      In my experience as a young passenger, those Ladas were very nice cars. My parents didn’t own a car while in Russia, though – back in the 90’s it was a huge pain in the arse. Petty thefts, vandalism, corrupt police, difficulty with parking, and the beginnings of what today is a 24-hr gridlock in Moscow. Commuting 1.5 hours one way by train and bus was a no-brainer.
      I hear things got better since then, except for traffic. Still, if you live in Moscow, taking the train is faster and cheaper – which is why nobody buys Ladas there. Cars are mainly status items. Obviously, a Lada isn’t much of a status item, it’s just a good cheap method of getting around.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Is there any relationship between the Lada Niva and the Chevy Niva?

    • 0 avatar

      Hi M1,
      This is an excellent question and apologies for not clarifying this in my post.
      And the answer is: yes there is.
      The first thing to know is that what we know as the Lada Niva was never called that way in Russia as far as I understand (if anyone living in Russia could confirm this?). It was first called VAZ 2121 when Lada used its Russian name there and had all models numbered (the 2105-2107 is a relic of that time). Then it was called Lada 4×4 but never took the Niva name in its home country I believe…
      Now since 1998 a joint venture between GM and AvtoVAZ/Lada produces a 4WD whose engine is based on the Lada Niva’s. Everything else is different. In its project stage it was called VAZ 2123 but at launch the joint-venture decided to use the Chevrolet brand instead. They called it the Chevrolet Niva. Niva is Russian for ‘crop field’ so kind of a good name for a 4WD if you can’t think of anything else…
      So GM didn’t exactly steal the Niva name they just were too lazy to find another one!

    • 0 avatar

      It ain’t as simple as that. The Niva had always been known as Niva in Russia, until the Chevrolet Niva was born, that is.
      Basically, Chevrolet Niva is the old Niva (Lada 4 x 4 now) but with a new body, I think. And it accounts for more than half of Chevrolet’s sales in Russia. Exactly why it is counted in Chevrolet sales data, even though it’s a 50/50 joint venture with the VAZ factory that they have, has never been satisfactorily explained by anybody.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not true, I used to live in Ukraine in the 80’s and car on the back said ‘NIVA 1600’. Here’s picture as a proof:

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Bimmer, Great

  • avatar

    Can anyone tell me how Chevrolet stole the Niva name?

  • avatar

    I can’t believe they are still building the 124 clone or the 4×4 whatever the hell it was called. These were sold here in Canada for awhile in the 80s and they were outdated then. For most purchasers they were a bad joke, given that they appealed to the bottom end of the market and were generally sold to people who could not afford an automotive mistake. Reliability was bad, critical parts were scarce and service was non existant after a couple of years. A friend of mine had one of the 4x4s. According to him the only good thing about it was the standard rear window defroster, he claimed it kept his hands from getting cold when he had to push it. An all too frequent occurence as I recall. He got rid of it and bought a Chevette, which has to be the only time that a Chevette could be viewed as an upgrade.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, Daimler-Benz still selling their G-Class that went on sale in 1979. It’s might be new on the inside, but still looks like the same box on the outside. And there are some fools who still buy them!
      I agree, it’s a POS, but at least one can fix Niva 4×4 with the most basic tools and basic automotive skills. Try that with Benz!

  • avatar

     Matt Gasnier,

    Love the blog! You’re providing quite a service to industry watchers. Thanks!

  • avatar

    I remember these being sold in Canada in the 1980’s and a friend had one and IIRC she paid $700 for the Fiat 124 clone – I can’t remember what it was called –  that was about 5-6 years old as a result plummeting resale value.
    It was loud, slow, and unsophisticated with ox cart handling and incredibly heavy steering that made cornering an adventure to say the least. The thing is she abused that car by piling on the miles, driving it hard and paying no mind to maintenance and it never let her down. In fact that’s what I recall hearing from anyone who owned one back then, it was crude but it got you where you needed to go, eventually. Same for the Niva which was renowned for it’s 4×4 capabilities but just as crude as the car. The Samara was different as it pretended to be as well built as the imports for a lower price, but in reality was a piece of crap.

    • 0 avatar

      It had no power steering that’s why it was so heavy. Samaras were very easy to work on. Dirty carburetor? Just take off air filter and blow out debris with an air pump! Starter gone? Give it some push! When I was 16 I was able to change a clutch on it by myself. I just needed a hand to hold a transmission.

      • 0 avatar

        Sounds like aircooled VWs. Really basic but easy to maintain. Not long on creature comforts though. I still have two. Love them.

        The problem is cheap cars is that they attract cheap owners and cheap owners (as I define them) don’t do anything to help these cheap cars last. I’m convinced that even applies to some of the cars from the past 20 years as well.

        Eventually these kinds of cars succumb to neglect or somebody decides the low resale value dictates their usefulness rather than their ability to do a commute cheaply and they no longer fix them until they are discarded for something more expensive.

        Rather than neglect and discard alot of these cheap cars – they can continue to do their jobs well for years for next to nothing in cost.

        The trick of course is to keep it from getting so ugly you don’t want to be seen in it due to collision damage, rust, worn interiors or faded paint.

        Then along the way “regular” folks buy these cars only to be let down by the neglected mechanicals and the rumors of these cars being crap/junk/s**t start and they are avoided further dinging their value.

        I’ve had reliable service from aircooled VWs, Fiats, Corvairs, and all sorts of cheap brands. I have a friend that had success with Yugos. They needed some TLC from time to time – more often than a modern car that costs many times more. But – the parts were cheap and the junkyard full of cars that had succumbed to neglect and had no resale value. I know a guy here that drives 80s VW Rabbit diesels daily. He gets 450K miles out of them before he trades up b/c he says weird things start to wear out like steering column bearings. His cars are always very presentable and clean. He likes the cars and the next to ‘nil cost it takes to drive them.

        I’m not going to allow resale value dictate the value of my car. Utility dictates the value of my car. If it does it’s job well and I like it and it continues to be cheap to own, I’m going to keep on driving it and fixing it when it needs attention.

  • avatar

    Fascinating article!  Makes me miss my 74 Fiat 128SL, sort of.
    It will be interesting to see how Hyundai will do with that fancy new car.  I’d also like to know the relative prices of all these vehicles.  That 124 clone has to be dirt cheap.

  • avatar

    I miss Ladas in Canada.  Never owned one, drove a few.  They were honest transportation, although in some ways they were honestly terrible.  Sometimes you don’t need a status symbol, or a mobile video game, you just need transportation.

    Whatever happened to that plan to build the last generation Sebring in Russia?  I think that was a Magna joint venture?

    If they could have brought some of those to market in North America they probably would have sold better than the current Sebring/200.

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