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Putin praises Russian car on 2,000-km drive in Far East

August 2010

(KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Russia’s car industry had a pleasant surprise for Vladimir Putin on Friday as the prime minister was moved to praise the Lada Kalina he is driving through four Far Eastern Russian regions.

Stopping to fill up the tank at a gas station almost 400 kilometers into his 2,000-kilometer trip along the newly-completed highway from Khabarovsk to Chita, Putin praised his Lada Kalina to a group of tourists.

“Unexpectedly, it turned out to be a very convenient, comfortable and reliable car,” Putin said when asked why he had chosen the latest offering from Russia’s car giant AvtoVAZ, which started selling the model in 2005.

“Try buying this car. I assure you, you won’t regret it,” he said.

He added that he would have been happy driving any AvtoVAZ car.

While western experts say the outlook for Russia’s indigenous car industry is grim, with some arguing the Russians only buy domestic cars because they cannot afford foreign marques, the Kremlin continues to put on a brave face.

Billions of rubles have been earmarked to help struggling automakers, and AvtoVAZ has been the main beneficiary of the country’s cash for clunkers scheme, which gives people trading in old cars 50,000 rubles towards the purchase of a Russian-made car.

These days, Russian-made vehicles include thousands assembled from imported knocked-down kits by Renault, Ford, Daewoo and many other international carmakers.

Despite the low price tags, many Russians remain wary of the Ladas and Volgas that have in various forms rolled off production lines for over 30 years now.

Even the country’s bureaucrats have resisted the allure of a domestic set of wheels – several feeble attempts to force them into Ladas and Volgas over the past decade have not gone beyond high-flown patriotic words in the parliament.

Instead, the elite have grown even more attached to their jet-black Mercedes and BMWs.

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