When the West imposed sanctions on Russia just after the Ukraine invasion, all major Western car companies exited the country. While BMW was one of the first car manufacturers to leave Russia, other giants, including Volkswagen AG, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Renault and AB Volvo, followed suit.
Following this, the Russian President urged state bodies to stop using foreign-made cars in favour of domestic ones. Russia's home-grown model Lada's sales had soared, occupying the number one spot in the domestic market.
But, Russian officials still don't prefer domestic cars. They continue to import cars, so much that 151 foreign-made vehicles worth 566 million rubles (INR 48,20,25,371) were purchased in August alone, reported The Moscow Times, quoting a local Russian investigative news outlet.
While Chinese brands accounted for 114 of the vehicles, the remaining were Japan's Toyota, South Korea's Hyundai Motor and China's Great Wall Motor.
Putin had earlier said "some ministers had asked for permission to continue buying foreign-made cars" but "that was out of the question".
Despite the President's order, Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office and a Defense Ministry engineer centre are reportedly among the buyers.
Interestingly, after the Western car manufacturers left Russia, Chinese carmakers, including Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., Chery Automobile Co. and Great Wall Motor Co. grabbed 17% of Russia’s auto market in 2022. So much so that Russians purchased a record number of Chinese cars in 2022, pushing the sales of new Chinese vehicles by seven per cent last year, CNN quotes data provider Autostat.
Interestingly, even Putin can't sometimes resist the charm of foreign cars. He was seen driving a Mercedes some months ago, despite switching to the Russian-made Aurus limousine.
The video released by the Russian state media in December shows Putin touring Crimea behind the wheels of a German-made Mercedes. The President's choice of the vehicle soon became a talking point, with some alleging that Putin was "making a point" by driving the Mercedes instead of a Russian-made car.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quick to dismiss any speculation regarding Putin's choice. On why the President chose a Mercedes and not his Aurus, Peskov, the Press Secretary for the President of the Russian Federation, said "that kind of car was just available on the spot."
"He drove it in order not to use extra cars," Peskov was quoted by the Russian website TASS.