Behind the scenes at Lada's Russian headquarters

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1.4km – Size of the principle manufacturing constructing at Togliatti. The unique manufacturing line was 1.35km.
In case your thought of Lada is a 1990s joke, assume once more: at this time, it’s a rising international power with a daring imaginative and prescient. We go to its HQ in Russia

The Lada Riva was emphatically not one of many best vehicles of the 1990s. It was primarily based on the platform of the Vaz 2101 from 1970, which was a reworked model of 1966’s Fiat 124.

So when EU emissions laws led to the Riva, together with the remainder of Lada’s vary, being withdrawn from sale within the UK in 1997, the one individuals who mourned have been these looking for a punchline for jokes about dangerous vehicles.

However the story of Lada didn’t finish in 1997. It was Russia’s nationwide automobile model and its ageing fashions – together with the Riva – continued to be massively profitable in its dwelling nation. In actual fact, a Russian monetary disaster in 1998 despatched the worth of imported vehicles hovering and helped Lada improve its market dominance.

However its market lead slowly eroded over the subsequent decade, regardless of a number of new fashions. In 2008, Renault purchased a share in Lada’s father or mother firm, Avtovaz. Shortly after, the worldwide monetary disaster hit Russian corporations significantly arduous and Avtovaz required a bailout from the Russian authorities to outlive. But that low additionally led to Lada’s resurgence.

The revival of essentially the most Russian of automobile manufacturers has been led by the French. Renault helped Lada develop the Granta in 2011, a small automobile that shortly turned Lada’s – and Russia’s – bestseller. The next 12 months, Renault took a controlling stake in Avtovaz, though the agency’s market share stored slipping as overseas corporations – led by Kia and Hyundai – closed in quick. Lada wanted daring, new fashions and a renewed sense of function.

That got here with the mid-sized Vestain 2015 and the X-Ray SUV–constructed on a Dacia Duster platform – the next 12 months. Each vehicles have been the work of British chief designer Steve Mattin and featured daring styling with quite a few ‘X’ parts, first seen on the X-Ray Idea in 2012. Lada’s market share has crept again as much as round 20%, and by 2017 – when Renault took full possession – the agency was again in revenue, helped significantly by the Russian automobile market beginning to develop once more after a protracted decline. The corporate’s aim now could be to shore up its place. “When you may have a robust market share, it’s tough simply to maintain it,” says Yves Caracatzanis, who took over as head of Avtovaz this 12 months. “We’re renewing all our merchandise in step with the DNA of the model: sturdy design, confidence in reliability and worth for cash.”

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These traits are essential to Lada’s success. The agency’s major buyer base has by no means been in Russia’s cities – “Russia isn’t Moscow and St Petersburg,” says Caracatzanis – however out within the countryside. The alterations made to the Fiat 124 to create Vaz 2101 have been all to make it simpler for patrons to take care of it themselves, provided that many lived hours from their nearest dealership. To that finish, Lada’s present vary renewal – eight new fashions and 9 facelifts are deliberate by 2026 – contains SUVs such because the X-Ray and jacked-up ‘Cross’ variations of its saloons. Within the bitter Russian winter, having additional floor clearance isn’t actually a life-style selection. They’re inexpensive too: relying on which method the rouble is blowing, an entry-level Vesta will set you again round £4700.

Lada’s revival is about greater than new vehicles, although. It wasn’t solely the agency’s vehicles that had fallen behind the instances. Its factories have been a lot as that they had been when Lada was based in 1964, its community of sellers slipping beneath the requirements set by rivals.

So, since 2012, Renault has invested greater than £1.three billion in an unlimited modernisation programme.

That’s finest seen on the major Lada Togliatti plant – an unlimited, sprawling facility positioned in Samara Oblast, 620 miles east of Moscow. You may need heard of Samara: it was within the area’s capital metropolis that England battled Sweden (and hordes of mosquitoes) within the World Cup quarter-finals.

Togliatti was previously referred to as Stavropol, though the unique metropolis is now beneath the reservoir created by the Kuybyshev Dam in 1957. A brand new metropolis was constructed close by and renamed in 1964 after Italian communistPalmiro Togliatti, reflecting Avtovaz’s early partnership with Fiat.

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The a part of Togliatti constructed to deal with Lada employees is named the ‘new metropolis’, though it’s very undoubtedly displaying its age – a mixture of concrete tower blocks and straight roads and paths. It’s all very 1960s.

At its peak, greater than 100,000 workers labored on the Togliatti plant, which sprawls over almost 1500 acres and greater than 185 miles of manufacturing traces, together with separate powertrain and element traces, together with a wind tunnel, take a look at observe and a automobile security analysis centre. At this time, 36,500 individuals work there. In 2017, 387,000 vehicles have been constructed on its three manufacturing traces, however it has the capability for 780,000 autos a 12 months.The principle manufacturing line runs just about your entire size of a 1400m-long constructing and, since 2012, has been used to make fashions constructed on the B0 platform – not simply Lada’s X-Ray and Largus, but additionally the Renault/Dacia Logan and Sandero and the Nissan Almera.

That line has additionally been the topic of a serious modernisation programme, with Renault working to carry the plant in keeping with the requirements of different Renault-Nissan- Mitsubishi amenities.

“The alliance has allowed us to hurry up the transformation a lot sooner than Avtovaz may do alone,” says Ales Bratoz, Avtovaz’s manufacturing boss. “After we began to look in 2012, the hole from right here to different alliance vegetation was very massive. At this time, we’re making use of and integrating manufacturing requirements to succeed in the identical stage as different vegetation. We’re remodeling traces and bettering working situations, high quality and effectivity.”

Stand alongside that B0 manufacturing line, marvelling on the stream of semi-finished bodyshells stretching out of sight in both route, and you’ll nonetheless see extra handbook labour than extra fashionable automobile vegetation elsewhere on this planet. However you too can see the modernisation in motion: new processes, tools, machinesandrobots.

You too can see Lada’s modernisation at work on the roads round Togliatti: the agency is within the means of revamping and upgrading its dealerships, to make them extra engaging and provide higher customer support. That’s significantly very important as a result of the unrivalled breadth of Lada’s supplier community is a key edge it has over its rivals, significantly daring, well-funded Chinese language corporations more and more getting into the market. “To enter the Russian market isn’t really easy,” says Caracatzanis. “You want a robust supplier community.”

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And there’s nonetheless loads of room to develop: solely round 50% of Russian households personal a automobile. “If we will present them with inexpensive, good-quality, dependable vehicles, there’s market,” says Caracatzanis. “There’s potential there.”

Lada can be aiming to develop elsewhere. Though laws – and the presence of Dacia as Renault’s entry-level model – makes a return to the UK unlikely, Lada exports to 34 international locations within the Commonwealth of Impartial States, Asia and, beginning just lately, South America.

However no signal of Lada’s intent was extra notable than the 4×4 Imaginative and prescient it unveiled on the current Moscow motor present.

It previews a substitute, due in 2022, for its best-loved mannequin and final actual hyperlink to the dangerous outdated days: the Niva off-roader (now referred to as the 4×4 after Lada bought the Niva nameplate to GM). Launched in 1977, the 4×4 continues to be being constructed and bought in just about unchanged kind. Clients embrace president Vladimir Putin. That Lada feels in a position to begin work on changing this mannequin is a notable image of the corporate’s daring step into the long run. One other notable image is on the facet of the 4×4 Imaginative and prescient: a small Russian flag motif. “It’s necessary to not lose the place you’re coming from,” says Caracatzanis. “It’s like Renault: the DNA of the model is French values.”

Make no mistake: even whether it is now managed by the French, Lada is firmly a Russian firm. Caracatzanis likens the connection to the unique partnership between Avtovaz and Fiat.

“Russians are very nationalistic and the Lada model is a Russian model,” he says. “It’s a part of the historical past of Russia and it’simportant to not lose these roots. It’s a must to be happy with the place you’re from.”

The true story now isn’t the place Lada’s from, however the place it’s going. Even when your perceptions of Lada are caught within the 1990s, the agency is concentrated firmly on the long run.

Learn extra 

Lada unveils 4X4 Imaginative and prescient idea at Moscow motor present

Lada Niva evaluate

All-new Lada heads for EU


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