By on May 28, 2014


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!

2 Toyota Land Cruiser MandalgoviToyota 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.

3 Hyundai Porter Gobi2Hyundai 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.

4 Toyota Prius MandalgoviToyota Prius in Mandalgovi, Gobi region

5 Toyota Corolla MandalgoviToyota 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.

8 Russian Truck MandalgoviZIL 130 in Mandalgovi (thanks Vinvad)

7 Sinotruk Truck GobiSinotruk 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).

9 Hyundai Getz BayandalaiHyundai Getz next to Bayandalai’s sole water well.

10a UAZ Hunter BayandalaiUAZ 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.

7 Toyota Rush BayandalaiToyota Cami in Bayandalai

10c UAZ Hunter BayandalaiUAZ 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…


10b UAZ Hunter BayandalaiTraffic Police UAZ Hunter in Bayandalai

Toyota Carina MandalgoviToyota Vista in Mandalgovi

Toyota Land Cruiser MandalgoviToyota Land Cruiser in Mandalgovi

Toyota Prius MandalgoviToyota Prius and Land Cruiser in Mandalgovi

Kia Frontier MandalgoviOld gen Kia Frontier in Mandalgovi (notice the Mongolian flag emblem on the right one)

Toyota Land Cruiser 70 MandalgoviToyota Land Cruiser 70 in Mandalgovi

Toyota Crown Corolla MandalgoviToyota Mark II, Corolla and Nissan Teana in Mandalgovi

Toyota Verossa MandalgoviToyota Verossa in Mandalgovi

UAZ Hunter MandalgoviUAZ Hunter in Mandalgovi

Toyota Crown MandalgoviToyota Mark II in Mandalgovi

UAZ Hunter Bukhanka MandalgoviUAZ Hunter and Bukhanka in Mandalgovi

Hyundai H1 MandalgoviHyundai H1 in Mandalgovi

Mandalgovi car landscape

Car landscape Mandalgovi 2Mandalgovi car landscape

Hyundai Sonata MandalgoviHyundai Sonata in Mandalgovi

JAC Truck GobiJAC truck

FAW Truck GobiFAW truck

Shachan truck GobiShachan truck

Kia Porter GobiKia Bongo

Hyundai H1 GobiHyundai H1

Mitsubishi Pajero BayandalaiMitsubishi Pajero iO in Bayandalai

Nissan Tiida BayandalaiNissan Tiida in Bayandalai

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22 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Trans Siberian Series Part 13.1: Which Cars Survived The Gobi Desert...”

  • avatar

    It’s amazing how similar Mongolia looks to my home state of Wyoming. I believe I actually met a couple of visiting Mongolians a few years back who commented on this.

    • 0 avatar

      I was watching a Nova program on digging for dinosaurs in Mongolia, a lot of similar animals in the earth. It was a Soviet lead expedition & they had engine problems. It’s not a good sign when you have to pull your oil pan to inspect your rod bearings in the middle nowhere.

  • avatar

    I met girls from Mongolia when I was in Shanghai. Seemed like an interesting place to visit…right up until I saw these pics.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      You try and talk tough, V8s, muscle cars and everything else.

      But, in the end you have a limp d!ck. Toughen the f4ck up.

      If it isn’t pretty and gawdy it’s no good.

      Leave the US travel and see the world. There are so many fantastic opportunities for you to develop and become a real human.

      I will support you if you try.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow Al ;

        That’s harsh ~ not everyone loves the Desert like (I imagine) you and I do , much less rattling across it in a non AC equipped small trucklet or whatever….

        Is the UAZ Hunter any good ? I’d like to try a closed cab version of one .


        • 0 avatar
          Bill Wade

          I had one (a 469 military). Extremely crude and anybody with a hammer and fence wire could fix it. Other than it sort of goes and sort of stops it doesn’t have much going for it.

        • 0 avatar

          Been in production since 1971. Should be pretty good.

          Even Russians respect it and they don’t have much love for their cars in this day and age.

          It’s what you get if you gotta go out into Rural Russia.

          I’m thinking of bringing one back from Russia. That or a NIVA haven’t decided yet. I want the diesel version but, i don’t think they are 25 years old yet.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Well, BTR talks tough, I’ve debated him and he tries to put across a tough persona.

          I do apologise to you if it appears harsh.

          If you look at how individuals present themselves on TTAC I’ll respond and tone match.

          If you actually read my comments I do respond likewise to all according to how they’ve presented themselves to me, ie, present a logical and reasonable argument, I will reciprocate with a logical and reasonable response. Be a d!ck and I will respond likewise.

          BTR first and foremost tries to present himself as a ultra right wing toughass.

          Like a few other on this site I lean to the right, but not in a macho fashion.

          As you are aware there are probably 3 guys I have little time for on TTAC because they lack sincerity in a debate.

          I detest a lack of sincerity in a debate.

          BTR does have this tendency, his persona or façade has precedence over argument.

          My view is be reasonable to all on the planet as all have something to contribute. The guy has never been to Mongolia and yet he makes that statement. That is harsh to the people of Mongolia.

          • 0 avatar

            I lived in China for 2 years.
            Lived in Shinjuku Ku Tokyo.
            Travelled in Canada and Dominican Republic.
            Will be going to Dubai and Seychelles.

            I don’t “try” to be an ultra-Right Wing tough guy. I AM a conservative leaning Republican.

          • 0 avatar

            Understood Al ;

            I wasn’t defending him as I too am a Conservative but I understand what this means unlike so many of the knee-jerk (or jerk off) nut balls .

            FWIW , I too have lived in third world shytholes so I know how easy it is to slam people/places/things you know nothing about .


        • 0 avatar

          The 469 is first and foremost known for the lack of quality control. When production output was commanded to bexraised, a significant amount of new cars just wouldn’t start because of lots of faults. It also has a fuel stop device between the seats, which sort of functions as anti-theft-system for the few people who don’t know that.

          • 0 avatar

            RE : UAZ Hunter 469 ;

            THANX for the comments ! I have Russian Ural Motocycles and I love them ~ two are early 1990’s models , crude and cobby beyond belief but they have never left me afoot and yes , I ride them very hard indeed .

            All are Solos , I don’t like Combination Rigs .

            I like simple and tough machines of all stripes .


          • 0 avatar

            Very interesting article and I agree many of these vehicles look alike. Like the small cargo van but would be happy with several of them.

            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.

        • 0 avatar

          UAZ was the closest thing to a civilian tank. During the Soviet times, the crude UAZ SUV was valued as highly as a Volga, the top sedan you could buy in USSR. To understand such valuation, you should imagine life in a typical Kolkhoz, a Soviet collective farm. Paved roads in the countryside were as common as high speed rail in the United States. And all roads were filled with at least a foot of mudd. I assume the road quality situation is not much different in Russia today. UAZ did start producing more modern-looking vehicles with better drivetrain and more comfortable amenities, but I believe the classic UAZ is still produced too.

    • 0 avatar

      I think these pics Mongolia even more fascinating, as it has gone from the most powerful state in the Eurasia to one of the most insignificant. Keep in mind that Mongols under Gengis Khan and his successors laid waste to all land from China through East Europe and Middle East.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I noticed a number of vehicles with unusual names, but similar looks to what we have in Australia. The Toyota Cami looks just like a Diahatsu Terios. Those Hyundai and Kia Frontiers appear to be the Kia K2900s. Here in Australia they have a 4 000lb payload and duals on the assend.

    Looks just like the Outback. It would be a great place to visit.

    Matt keep up the good work.

  • avatar

    I’m pretty sure the Land Cruiser is one of the only cars you can find in both the most posh exclusive locations as well as the absolute sh*ttiest places.

    Knock the Land Cruiser if you must (rather- if you can), but the fact that this bastard’s stomping grounds is in some of the world’s most dangerous, remote, and rough terrain speaks volumes.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t imagine the type of wealth required in a country like Mongolia to run a Land Cruiser, when everyone else maybe has an old Bongo, if they’re lucky.

  • avatar

    It’s a Hyundai Getz, and whatever you want, Hyundai gets.

  • avatar

    Fascinating series, thanks. Mongolia is on my places to visit list. It has it’s own unique culture but sits between two of the biggest countries in the world. The car landscape, in the desert, is fairly predictable though, driven by needs rather than wants I think.

  • avatar

    “Proud Mongolian woman”

    Proud where it counts, fer sher!

  • avatar

    @ ” 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 .


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