Russians divided over plans to reboot classic Soviet-era car

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May 25 (Reuters) – With its appealing headlamps, sleek front grille and eye-catching steering wheel designs, the legendary Soviet-era car, the Moskvich, was the pride of any Russian who owned one.

Last manufactured two decades ago, a surprise comeback for the Moskvich – which translates as “Muscovite” – is now on the cards thanks to the exodus of Western car manufacturers from Russia.

When French carmaker Renault announced its departure, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin swooped, outlining plans to nationalise its Moscow factory – which had once been the production centre for the Moskvich – for a modern revival of the classic car brand. read more

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Despite the Moskvich’s “long and glorious history” – as Sobyanin, put it – enthusiasts told Reuters they are divided about plans to reboot a car many assumed had been consigned to the past.

“I heard the Moskvich is about to be brought back to life… and I’m really glad about it,” said Alexander Bondarenko, sporting a Moskvich-branded T-shirt. “If they introduce a modern version of the 2140 model, I’ll buy it immediately.”

But some Moskvich enthusiasts are sceptical about the plans, sensing political motivations.

“The rebirth of the Moskvich is a populist decision,” said Moscow resident Sergei, who declined to give his surname, adding: “It’s unclear what we’ll get out of it.”

Amid a widespread exodus of Western companies, President Vladimir Putin has said Russians should be proud of the country’s industrial heritage and wants to boost Russia’s domestic manufacturing base.

Other fans of the car said the story of the much-loved Moskvich should remain in the past.

“The Moskvich should not be touched: it died; it was killed,” said Stanislav Tsibulsky, referring to the painful demise of the Moscow car plant that manufactured the cars. He said plant workers did not receive salaries for years and thousands lost their jobs.

“The plant was pulled down, there was no museum, and now we’re planning on restoring the Moskvich,” he says.

“It seems like blasphemy to me.”

There are dozens of models of the Moskvich, which first began production in 1946, and weathered the fall of the Soviet Union before being wound down in 2001.

In the car’s heyday, people regularly waited a decade to be able to acquire one of the more popular models, the Moskvich 412, which fans say cost around 5,000 Soviet rubles in 1975, when the average monthly salary was 150 roubles.

For nostalgic Moskvich owner Sergei Ushakov, the car’s return to life is welcome news, but he says the country’s focus should, nevertheless, be on making modern cars.

“This is a rare object that I keep in working condition,” he says, beaming as he presents his 400 model Moskvich.

“But there is no need to produce the same cars.”

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Reporting by Reuters
Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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