Russians turn to Chinese cars after Western exodus

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As the exodus of Western carmakers narrows options for Russian consumers, Chinese automakers are filling the gap, forcing Russians to overcome their reluctance to embrace Chinese brands and stomach higher prices.

Chinese brands such as Haval, Chery and Geely now account for almost 40 percent of Russia’s new-car sales, according to data from analytical agency Autostat and consulting company PPK, up from less than 10 percent a year earlier, pouncing on the opportunity left by the exit of firms such as Renault, Nissan and Mercedes.

But there are growing pains. Reuters spoke to several Russian car buyers and dealership officials who perceived the quality of some Chinese cars to be lower than Western rivals.

Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev said last week after a visit to China in December that cooperation with Chinese manufacturers was good and consumers’ perceptions were out of date.

“We used to laugh at some of their designs, but I went for a ride in a local car and looked at others,” he said. “I’ll say bluntly: The car I drove was certainly no worse than a Mercedes.”

Most Western automakers, who have fought with domestic carmakers for market share since they began building factories in Russia in the early 2000s, ceased operations last spring.

“We’ve lived our whole lives focused on European, Japanese, American brands and did not especially take the Chinese market into account, which … has developed at an incredible rate,” said Vladimir Shestak, general director of Altair-Auto in Vladivostok, whose dealership specializes in the Mercedes-Benz and Geely brands.