A Coupé From Mother Russia
By Andy Bannister
Russian car giant AvtoVAZ – owner of the Lada marque – has begun 2010 with the launch of a low-volume coupé, with just 60 units slated for production this month.
Based on the company’s existing Priora model, a glance at the new coupé suggests it is unlikely to prompt enthusiasts to besiege the gates of the company’s Togliatti factory, however.
Despite rather ordinary looks and specification, the new vehicle is being presented in the Russian media as something rather special, a patriotic alternative to a foreign car in these hard economic times.
“This three-door hatchback is a perfect solution for those who like dynamic driving and those who would like to drive a rare, uncommon car,” according to the Lada press office.
It adds that more than 150 components and features have been changed for this special model, including new rear wings, front doors, roof, windows, decorative mouldings, and wheels.
Reassuringly, “the car underwent successfully all state certificate tests before it was put into low-volume production”, the press service went on to say.
The Priora coupé is built at AvtoVAZ‘s pilot facility, which earlier produced small numbers of a similar model based on the Lada 112. The Priora – which sells in much higher volume as a four-door saloon and five-door hatch – is little more than a facelifted version of its predecessor.
The old 112 was part of a series dating back to at least the early 1990s, best known in saloon form as the 110, half-heartedly sold in some western countries like Germany and France, but most successful at home in Russia.
Despite its old-fashioned roots, the Priora coupé does have some modern equipment (by Lada standards) including an air conditioner, rear parking sensors, anti-lock brakes, airbags, heated seats and an alarm and immobiliser, plus a wider-than-normal range of options
It is also said to be better-made, with reduced panel gaps and higher overall quality, boasting an “Italian-influenced” interior.
Like most Russian cars it has high ground clearance to cope with the country’s often-challenging roads, but with improved suspension. The engine is an old 1.6-litre petrol unit, offering a little more power than previous Lada models.
The price for this new model is 375,000 roubles, or around $12,500.
Lada certainly needs all the help it can get at the moment. Foreign partner Renault has been holding back investment, concerned at the company’s financial instability, and overall Russian vehicle sales in 2009 were down a whopping 49% last year.
After years of rapid growth, the number of new cars and light trucks sold in the country dropped to 1.47 million units – back to levels seen four years previously.
In fact, AvtoVAZ did slightly better than the overall trend, but its sales were still down 44%, a huge drop in view of the company’s near-total reliance on its home market.
Given the huge numbers of staff employed in Togliatti, Russia’s government is unlikely to allow AvtoVAZ to fail, and has responded with incentives to people encouraging them to trade-in old cars, similar to those seen in the US and Europe.
With Russia’s moneyed classes in temporary retreat, domestic brands like Lada could benefit, although clearly it is going to be a special kind of buyer who opts to snap up one of these low-volume coupés.
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