MOSCOW, Russia: As western automakers have left Russia since the start of the Ukraine war, the Chinese have rushed in to fill the void and now 40 percent of all new car sales in Russia are Chinese brands.
However, this has not been easy for Russian consumers, who are unfamiliar with Chinese brands, which charge more than the equivalent western autos.
Newly released data from analytical agency Autostat and consulting company PPK shows that 40 percent of recent Russian car purchases were Chinese brands, such as Haval, Chery and Geely. The large jump in sales of Chinese cars compares to Chinese cars only representing 10 percent of new car sales in Russia in January-February of 2022.
The Chinese moved in to the Russian auto market following the departure of Renault, Nissan and Mercedes.
However, Chinese cars are often seen as being of lower quality and higher priced than western autos.
Stepan, 28, from Moscow noted, "I managed to buy a Skoda in 2022. If you want my honest opinion, the difference (with Chinese cars) is massive," he told Reuters.
Czech carmaker Skoda Auto, owned by Volkswagen, is in the final stages of selling its Russian business, in the wake of Western sanctions against Russia.
Meanwhile, Alexander, 74, has also bought a Chinese auto. "I believe that in time the reliability will improve," he said. "For example, I know that (Geely) Tugella has a Volvo engine. This sold this car for me," as quoted by Reuters.
Meanwhile, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said, after a visit to China in December, that Chinese autos were much improved over the past and Russian consumers' perceptions were out of date.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.
However, Vladimir Shestak, general director of Altair-Auto in Vladivostok, which largely sold Mercedes-Benz and Geely brands, said, "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," as quoted by Reuters.
Also, China's Haval is now being assembled in Russia and the revived Soviet-era Moskvich is using engine parts, design and engineering from China.