The automotive industry in the Soviet Union spanned the history of the state from 1929 to 1991. It began with assistance from Western manufacturers and grew into a substantial industry with multiple makes. Before its dissolution, the Soviet Union produced 2.1-2.3 million units per year of all types, and was the sixth (previously fifth) largest automotive producer, ranking ninth place in cars, third in trucks, and first in buses.
Tsarist Russia produced small numbers of Russo-Balt, Puzyryov, Freze, Lessner, and other vehicles. After the 1917 October Revolution, Prombron built small quantities of Russo-Balt cars while AMO (modified as ZIS and then ZIL later) plant produced the first Soviet trucks, based on a FIAT design.
The oldest Soviet mass automaker, GAZ (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, Gorky Automobile Factory), was established in Nizhny Novgorod in 1929 by Ford. A year later, Ford built in Moscow a second automobile plant, AZLK, which became a major Soviet car maker only after WWII.
Unlike to other automakers, due to specific government aims, in the early years of Soviet production, cars were a small share of all vehicles. Also, at the beginning of 1960s it became clear Soviet industry was not able to design and launch a decent car for the masses. Soviet leadership again turned to the West seeking technical assistance. Several options were considered - Volkswagen and Ford, among others. FIAT was chosen because at the time Italian communists were gaining power in Italy and it was a good chance for the USSR to show support. The plant was built in just 4 years (1966–1970) in the small town of Stavropol Volzhsky, which later grew to a population of more than half a million city and was renamed Togliatti to commemorate Palmiro Togliatti. Also, the Izhmash car plant was built in Izhevsk, with Renault assistance, to produce AZLK Moskvitchs and Moskvitch-based combis. Kamaz, Europe's largest heavy truck plant, was built in Naberezhnye Chelny with U.S. and German aid, while GAZ, ZIL, UralAZ, KrAZ, MAZ, BelAZ, and plants continued to produce other types of trucks.
By the early 1980s, Soviet automobile industry consisted of several main plants, which produced vehicles for various market segments:
- ZAZ: manufacturer of Zaporozhets small cheap cars (as many as 150,000)
- VAZ: produced up to 700,000 annually the licensed copy of Fiat 124 and other Zhiguli (export brand Lada) models based on it, plus Niva light four-wheel-drive car
- AZLK (Автомобильный завод имени Ленинского Комсомола): originally part of GAZ, was an official "competitor" of VAZ but produced significantly less (up to 200,000) domestic designed advanced (but easier to service and repair) Moskvitchs
- Izhmash: another "competitor" with Moskvitch family cars in the same volumes (up to 200,000)
- GAZ: produced light trucks and domestic designed Volga business-class sedans for Soviet officials (up to 100,000)
- ZIL: manufacturer of middle trucks and exclusive limousines for the Communist party elite
- UAZ: produced light four-wheel-drive vehicles for the army mainly
- LuAZ: produced compact four-wheel-drive vehicles (few thousands only)
- Kamaz: manufacturer of heavy[clarification needed] trucks
- UralAZ: manufacturer of all-wheel-drive trucks
- KrAZ, MAZ (Минский автомобильный завод, Minsk Automobile Factory): manufacturer of heavy trucks
- BelAZ: manufacturer of superheavy trucks
The bulk of the automotive industry of the Soviet Union, with annual production approaching 1.8 million units, was located in Russian SFSR. Ukrainian SSR was second, at more than 200,000 units per year, Belorussian SSR was third at 40,000. Other Soviet republics (SSRs) had low-significant automotive industry. Only the first two republics produced all types of automobiles.
With the exception of ZAZ and LuAZ, which were located in the Ukrainian SSR, all the aforementioned companies were located in the RSFSR. Besides the RSFSR, some truck plants were established in Ukrainian, Belorussian, Georgian, Armenian, and Kyrgizian SSRs while production of buses was done in Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Tajik SSRs also.
Domestic car production satisfied only 45% of the domestic demand; nevertheless, no import of cars was permitted. Soviet industry annually exported 300,000-400,000 cars, mainly was to Eastern Europe, but also to Western countries. Quality of production was not very high. There were substantial numbers of highway trucks (Volvo, MAN) in some quantities and urban buses (Ikarus) imported as well.
- Main article: Automotive industry in Russia
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became hard for Russian/Ukrainian automakers to thrive due to low quality of own production and competitive foreign imports. Some automakers, like AvtoVAZ, have turned to collaborations with other companies (such as GM-AvtoVAZ) in order to keep the factories running. Others, like AZLK, have become dormant, while still others still build the old Soviet-era models. Then there are special cases, like ZAZ, which have transformed themselves into new companies - in ZAZ's case they are now known as UkrAVTO.
Historical production by year
Soviet and post-Soviet automotive manufacturers
- Azia Avto
- Frunse Auto-assembly Plant
- AvtoVAZ (Lada)
- AZLK (Moskvitch)
- ZiL (former ZiS and AMO)
- Tajik Auto-assembly Plant
- Economy of the Soviet Union
- Automotive industry by country
- List of countries by motor vehicle production
- "THE RUSSIAN AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY AND FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT". Applied Research Centre in Sustainable Regeneration.
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