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Breaking Out: Russia’s Largest Automotive Show Quite an Interesting Affair

Russia’s Largest Automotive Show Quite an Interesting Affair

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What do you get when you mix the SEMA Show and the North America International Auto Show, smash that together with AAPEX, add dashes of the Work Truck Show and Hot Import Nights, pack in a few dozens RVs and metro buses, and subtract the omnipresent Ginsu knives?

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The Moscow International Motor Show, that’s what.

Spread over numerous halls of the Moscow Expocenter, MIMS is Russia’s single largest trade and consumer car, component and what-have-you show. With exhibitors from 30 countries, the late August event covered such a broad spectrum of disciplines, one wasn’t sure what kind of event it really was.

Missing were major names like GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, which all do considerable business in Russia, as well as tire giants Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone. The automakers’ absence was well noted by the local media.

Well represented were lesser automakers like Suzuki, Hyundai, Great Wall (China), Khodro (Iran), Kia, Ssangyong (South Korea), Tata (India), Skoda (Czech Republic) and native marques like Volga, Tata and the ubiquitous Lada.

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Every second car on Russian roadways is a Lada, the clear-cut marketshare leader, despite being a rolling symbol of Soviet-era vehicle design and taste – boxy, boring and barely roadworthy.

Remarkably, if only because buying a new car remains an expensive proposition in Russia, many Ladas remain in service well past their prime, held together by well placed wire, tape and a few prayers.

Statistically speaking, Russia has perhaps the world’s oldest vehicle population: Fully 50% of all vehicles on the road are older than 10 years, and only 20% are less then five years old.

Lada’s parent, AvtoVAZ, is Russia’s largest carmaker and rightly had the biggest space at MIMS, displaying such inspiring models as the 110, the 111 and the red-hot 112, each oddly reminiscent of a 1983 Taurus. Equally cold and lifeless were the dozen or so booth models hired to add glamour to AvtoVAZ’s 2006 collection. Their emotionless faces added certain life to a booth full of, well, Ladas.

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Aside from the missing majors, the tire side of MIMS still had a solid turnout, with Toyo, Continental, Yokohama, Pirelli, Maxxis, Nokian, Matador and Vredestein taking large spaces. Exhibiting at MIMS for the first time, Vredestein had been formally introduced to the Russian market only days before yet drew heavy crowds interested in tires and the Giugiaro-designed Aston Martin 20/20 concept car that was the booth centerpiece.

Also drawing interest were Russian tiremakers Amtel, Sibur, Tatneft and Moscow Tyre Plant, each sporting some interesting designs. While the most popular tire size in Russia remains the sturdy 175/70R13, with a firm 47% share (followed closely by 165/70R13 and 195/65R15, each with 8%), most display tires were larger – but none approached 20-inch wheel diameters – and winter tires were well represented.

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Interspersed with local component suppliers were recognizable aftermarket wheel, part and accessory brands like Pioneer, Mongoose, OZ Racing, Fusion, LA Edition and Brembo and DJ Wheels. And, for kids of all ages, there were several crowded Playstation 2 game kiosks.

Partly indoors and partly outdoors, MIMS attracted a wide range of interests. Giant work trucks – including street sweepers, dumps and garbage trucks – were surrounded by interested visitors, as were the dozens of metro service buses and RVs on display.

Parked within 50 yards of each other in the main plaza were competing car audio demonstration trucks, “Transformer”-like units laden with thousands of pounds of amps, speakers and subwoofers that made the concrete shake.

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Down one outdoor area were two Russian “hot rods” and a few restored “antique” Russian cars – not quite U.S. caliber, but interesting. “Detroit iron” had nothing on the antiques, hulking jet-black 1950s and 1960s models apparently constructed on unused tank frames and absent even common creature comforts.

There were also some interesting – and certainly more familiar – displays. Many booths featured restyled rides, including an incredibly mean-looking, custom-crafted PT Cruiser and a few well done Civics stuffed with audio and video gear. In the outdoor displays were two humongous SUVs that would frighten a Hummer H1. One sported 1300×600-533 flotation tires that looked like holiday parade balloons.

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Despite the odd conglomeration of vehicle types, MIMS really was not unlike any familiar new-car or aftermarket show. A little of this, a little of that.

What was different, though, was the raw interest Russian visitors paid to the new vehicles – despite their design flaws. Regardless of the heavy traffic on Moscow’s streets – certainly traffic is quite similar in St. Petersburg and other major cities there – car ownership in Russia remains rare. The majority do not own cars and rely on public transit or other means. Middle-class car buyers look at used vehicles first.

As the economy in Russia gets sorted out, the country’s auto and tire industries will rev up. And, MIMS will surely attract due attention from those who chose to pass this time.

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