Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Trans Siberian Series Part 13.1: Which Cars Survived The Gobi Desert

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier

Nomadic life in action: Proud Mongolian woman in front of her family’s Hyundai pick-up with her ger all packed-up in the back.

After a little pause we are back on track for our Trans-Siberian Railway series. After a tiny hop to Terelj National Park we are now entering ‘real’ Mongolia and getting lost in the Gobi desert for a week. This region is bigger than France (612,000 sq km) and home to just 313,000 inhabitants, and I will try and relate this amazing experience with 3 posts on here. One of the big questions I will ask (and try and answer) is: which cars survived this environment, one of the most inhospitable in the world – yes, which cars did survive the Gobi desert?

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.

The loop I did was over 1,500 km long and traversed one of the most isolated regions in the world. As soon as we get out of Ulaanbaatar, the car landscape changes drastically, as does the landscape full stop – now desert steppe the entire way. One bit of trivia first: “Gobi” is Mongolian for “desert steppe”, meaning a landscape that has not enough vegetation for marmots but enough for camels. Yep, that’s a pretty bucolic definition I know but typically Mongolian! So technically when you say Gobi desert you are saying desert twice. Yes sir!

Toyota Land Cruiser in Mandalgovi, Gobi region.

As you will see in the next 2 Gobi reports, the car landscape in the region is defined by whether there is a sealed road to access the area or not. There are no more new cars except the odd Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX. The Hyundai Porter and Kia Bongo/Frontier pick-ups are the vehicles of choice for the nomadic and semi-nomadic people living in the area, mostly in their very recognisable marine blue robe.

Hyundai Porter, Gobi region

Even though a camel is supposed to be able to carry a fully packed ger (250kg), nowadays nomadic Mongolians prefer the convenience of a pick-up truck. My trip was great timing as it is the end of summer and the start of winter in Mongolia, meaning the time many nomads change location.

Toyota Prius in Mandalgovi, Gobi region
Toyota Corolla in Mandalgovi

The only actual town we crossed in the Gobi is Mandalgovi, one of only 5 locations housing over 10,000 inhabitants (just) in this region. It is very hard to give an adequate estimate of the most popular cars here as the sample is so small but there were a few striking particularities in the local car landscape. Apart from the Korean pick-ups described above, both generations of Toyota Prius can still be spotted but much less often than in Ulaanbaatar. Instead, the most successful used Japanese imports seem to be the Toyota Carina and Corolla. There are many used and bruised Hyundais everywhere, as well as noticeably more Nissan X-Trail of a certain age. No new cars except the usual Toyota Land Cruiser.

ZIL 130 in Mandalgovi (thanks Vinvad)
Sinotruk Howo

After Mandalgovi, we witnessed first hand what is potentially the most drastic change in Mongolia’s infrastructure today, owing a lot to the newly opened Oyu Tolgoi mine: a sealed road is in construction down to Dalanzadgad, which is currently only accessible with very sturdy 4-wheel-drives. As I noticed on my way to Terelj, Chinese trucks have the monopoly of the construction work, which is an interesting phenomenon in itself given the near absence of Chinese passenger cars in the entire country (although I did spot a Great Wall Hover on the day we left UB). Caterpillar machinery is being replaced by Liu Gong vehicles as well. If that hasn’t translated into the acceptance of Chinese Passenger Cars in the region, I would say that when Chinese pick-up trucks get rugged enough for the Gobi desert, Mongolian nomads may opt for them instead. They have been driving Chinese motorbikes around the steppe for decades after all (which I will describe in my next Gobi report).

Hyundai Getz next to Bayandalai’s sole water well.
UAZ Hunter in Bayandalai

The second and last village before we entered full-on Gobi desert was Bayandalai, which is actually nothing more than a few houses in the middle of the desert. Given there is no sealed road to reach this village, the Korean pick-ups have all but disappeared. There are no new cars, either.

Toyota Cami in Bayandalai
UAZ Hunter in Bayandalai

The progressive appearance of Russian Jeeps and vans is the striking element that will characterise the next part of this adventure which I will relate in my next post…

Traffic Police UAZ Hunter in Bayandalai
Toyota Vista in Mandalgovi
Toyota Land Cruiser in Mandalgovi
Toyota Prius and Land Cruiser in Mandalgovi
Old gen Kia Frontier in Mandalgovi (notice the Mongolian flag emblem on the right one)
Toyota Land Cruiser 70 in Mandalgovi
Toyota Mark II, Corolla and Nissan Teana in Mandalgovi
Toyota Verossa in Mandalgovi
UAZ Hunter in Mandalgovi
Toyota Mark II in Mandalgovi
UAZ Hunter and Bukhanka in Mandalgovi
Hyundai H1 in Mandalgovi
Mandalgovi car landscape
Hyundai Sonata in Mandalgovi
JAC truck
FAW truck
Shachan truck
Kia Bongo
Hyundai H1
Mitsubishi Pajero iO in Bayandalai
Nissan Tiida in Bayandalai
Matt Gasnier
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  • Old Man Pants Old Man Pants on May 30, 2014

    "Proud Mongolian woman" Proud where it counts, fer sher!

  • -Nate -Nate on Jun 02, 2014

    @ " Nate, you just landed right in my wheelhouse. I was thinking Ural while reading this. If I still rode I would have to have one. Have hit the point with broken back etc that the sidecar would be mandatory." Well , my back was shattered in 2008 when a gypsy cab ran me over whilst I was waiting for a red light on my W650 , I'm lucky to have survived , I had to wear a back brace until 2013 and I'll walk with a cane for the rest of my life . In December 2013 I underwent neck fusion surgery , three discs mangled beyond all hope . my Surgeon commented he'd never seen an ambulatory Patient with this much damage . I'm not done riding yet , have only ridden my old Honda 90's since the surgery , I hope I can still ride my Ural Solos . If not , maybe an articulated side car rig , or a vintage parking patrol trike , not really interested in the CanAm etc. trikes . There's a lot of ways to skin this cat ~ don't give up easily . The funny thing is : when folks see me riding with my cane in it's harness , they think I'm carrying a sword =8-) . When I had it made , the Costumer couldn't figure out what I wanted so I told her ' you know , like Conan's Sword carrier , just tubular for my cane when I'd out riding ' . Thanx for the jog ~ maybe I'll try riding my Ural Solo sT up to Newcomb's Ranch for lunch to - day . -Nate

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.