Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Trans-Siberian Series Part 10: Ulan Ude, Buryatia

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier
best selling cars around the globe trans siberian series part 10 ulan ude buryatia

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…

If you can’t wait for the next report, you can follow my trip in real time here, or check out 174 other car markets on my blog.

Toyota Allion and GAZ Volga

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…

Honda Airwave

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…

Toyota Land Cruiser and Prado
Ulan Ude car landcape

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.

GAZ Volga and Lenin

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.

SsangYong Istana

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.

Last town before Mongolia. Can’t see any Russian cars? Me neither…

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!

Toyota Carina
Lada Oka
Toyota Caldina
Mitsubishi Pajero Mini
Nissan Patrol and Zhiguli
Zhiguli and Mercedes MB140
Toyota Probox
Toyota IQ and SsangYong Istana
Mitsubishi Outlander
Toyota Ipsum and GAZ Volga
Toyota Opa
Lada Granta
Join the conversation
3 of 11 comments
  • TangoR34 TangoR34 on Feb 11, 2014

    Matt I love this series. Having seen so many cars used Japanese cars do you think some of them would be somehow successful on American shores?

    • Matt Gasnier Matt Gasnier on Feb 12, 2014

      Hi Tango, Glad you love it! I do actually believe they would be successful, at the right (dirt cheap) price. They seem to last forever, or at least longer than most Ladas…

  • RHD RHD on Feb 16, 2014

    The Mercedes 140 looks like a cross between a VW van, circa 1980, and an Oldsmobile Silhouette. Most of the vehicles in the pictures would be preferable to that annoying Corolla that keeps sliding up on the bottom of each picture.

  • Alan The Prado shouldn't have the Landcruiser name attached. It isn't a Landcruiser as much as a Tacoma or 4 Runner or a FJ Cruiser. Toyota have used the Landcruiser name as a marketing exercise for years. In Australia the RAV4 even had Landcruiser attached years ago! The Toyota Landcruiser is the Landcruiser, not a tarted up Tacoma wagon.Here a GX Prado cost about $61k before on roads, this is about $41k USD. This is a 2.8 diesel 4x4 with all the off road tricky stuff, plus AC, power windows, etc. I'm wondering if Toyota will perform the Nissan Armada treatment on it and debase the Prado. The Patrol here is actually as capable and possibly more capable than the Landcruiser off road (according to some reviews). The Armada was 'muricanised and the off road ability was reduced a lot. Who ever heard of a 2 wheel drive Patrol.Does the US need the Prado? Why not. Another option to choose from built by Toyota that is overpriced and uses old tech.My sister had a Prado Grande, I didn't think much of it. It was narrow inside and not that comfortable. Her Grand Cherokee was more comfortable and now her Toureg is even more comfortable, but you can still feel the road in the seat of your pants and ears.
  • Jeffrey No tis vehicle doen't need to come to America. The market if flooded in this segment what we need are fun affordable vehicles.
  • Nrd515 I don't really see the point of annual inspections, especially when the car is under 3 years (warranty) old. Inspections should be safety related, ONLY, none of the nonsensical CA ARB rules that end up being something like, "Your air intake doesn't have an ARB sticker on it, so you have to remove it and buy one just like it that does have the ARB sticker on it!". If the car or whatever isn't puking smoke out of it, and it doesn't make your eyes water, like an old Chevy Bel-Air I was behind on Wed did, it's fine. I was stuck in traffic behind that old car, and wow, the gasoline smell was super potent. It was in nice shape, but man, it was choking me. I was amused by the 80 something old guy driving it, he even had a hat with a feather in it, THE sign of someone you don't want to be driving anywhere near you.
  • Lou_BC "15mpg EPA" The 2023 ZR2 Colorado is supposed to be 16 mpg
  • ToolGuy "The more aerodynamic, organic shape of the Mark VIII meant ride height was slightly lower than before at 53.6 inches, over 54.2” for the Mark VII."• I am not sure that ride height means what you think it means.Elaboration: There is some possible disagreement about what "ride height" refers to. Some say ground clearance, some say H point (without calling it that), some say something else. But none of those people would use a number of over 4 feet for a stock Mark anything.Then you go on to use it correctly ("A notable advancement in the Mark VIII’s suspension was programming to lower the ride height slightly at high speeds, which assisted fuel economy via improved aerodynamics.") so what do I know. Plus, I ended a sentence with a preposition. 🙂