They’re baaack! Russian Ladas return to Cuba in streamlined shapes

The Russian car maker AvtoVAZ will deliver 300 of its latest model vehicles to Cuba this year, company president Nikolya Mor announced Friday (March 10) in Havana. The vehicles, the Vesta sedan and the Largus sports utility vehicle, will be supplied to Cuba on a trial basis in May, for use by travel agencies and car rental and taxi companies.

[For technical details of the vehicles in question, click here.]

In the event that Cuba decides to buy more AvtoVAZ vehicles, a firm contract could be signed in 2018, Mor said, adding that his company is prepared to sell as many as 30,000 units to the island government.

Russia’s trade representative in Cuba, Aleksandr Bogatyr, said that the Moscow-based VneshEconomBank (Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs) is ready to provide long-term loans — four to five years — for all purchases.

AvtoVAZ (VAZ stands for Volga Automobile Plant) is situated in the city of Tolyatti, in the Samara region of Russia. Beginning in the early 1970s, it sold Lada brand automobiles to Cuba, a vehicle patterned after the FIAT family cars. Hundreds of those old Ladas can still be seen on Cuban roads.

Lada was the export brand for cars sold in Russia as Zhigulis.

The company — Russia’s largest car maker — has not sold any vehicles to Cuba since 2005 and is interested in resuming that trade as part of its export strategy, Mor told reporters. He did not elaborate on the cost of this trial run.

[UPDATE: The website Russia Beyond the Headlines reported Wednesday [March 15] that the average retail price of a Largus on the Russian market is 600,000 rubles (10,000 dollars) and of a Vesta is 640,000 rubles (11,000 dollars). It noted that “income levels in Cuba are very low and few residents can afford a new car.”]

According to Bogatyr, the AvtoVAZ strategy has good prospects.

“In Cuba, since the days of the Soviet Union, the popularity of Russian cars has been very high,” the trade official said. “These cars are respected, loved and valued here. Cuba welcomes the development of cooperation with Russia in all areas, including motor transport.”

Official figures indicate that Cuba imports about 3,000 cars annually. A significant number of them are used in the developing and fast-growing tourist industry.

“Every year, the influx of tourists increases. Cars for this industry are needed and Lada would like to be a player in this growing market,” said Marat Gabitov, director of Ivekta, distributor in Cuba of AvtoVAZ vehicles. Ivekta will be responsible for the warranty and post-warranty service of the Russian cars and the supply of spare parts.