Automotive industry in the Soviet Union

The automotive industry in the Soviet Union spanned the history of the state from 1929 to 1991. It started with the establishment of large car manufacturing plants and reorganisation of the AMO Factory in Moscow in the late 1920s–early 1930s, during the first five-year plan, and continued until the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991. Before its disintegration, 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.


The Russian Empire had a long history of progress in the development of machinery. As early as in the eighteenth century Ivan I. Polzunov constructed the first two-cylinder steam engine in the world,[1] while Ivan P. Kulibin created a human-powered vehicle that had a flywheel, a brake, a gearbox, and roller bearings.[2] One of the world's first tracked vehicles was invented by Fyodor A. Blinov in 1877.[3] In 1896, the Yakovlev engine factory and the Freze carriage-manufacturing workshop manufactured the first Russian petrol-engine automobile, the Yakovlev & Freze.[4] The turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was marked by the invention of the earliest Russian electrocar, nicknamed the “Cuckoo”, which was created by the engineer Hippolyte V. Romanov in 1899. Romanov also constructed a battery-electric omnibus.[5] In the years preceding the 1917 October Revolution, Russia produced a growing number of Russo-Balt, Puzyryov, Lessner, and other vehicles, held its first motor show in 1907[6] and had car enthusiasts who successfully participated in international motor racing. A Russo-Balt car placed 9th in the Monte Carlo Rally of 1912, despite the extreme winter conditions that threatened the lives of the driver and riding mechanic on their way from Saint Petersburg,[7] 2nd in the San Sebastián Rally and covered more than 15,000 km in Western Europe and Northern Africa in 1913. The driver of the car, Andrei P. Nagel, was personally awarded by Emperor Nicholas II for increasing the prestige of the domestic car brand.[8] In 1916, as part of the government program of building six large automobile manufacturing plants, the Trading House Kuznetsov, Ryabushinsky & Co. established AMO (later renamed to First State Automobile Factory, ZIS, and ZIL), but none of the plants were finished due to the political and economic collapse that followed in 1917.

AMO-F-15 on a Soviet stamp

After the 1917 October Revolution, Russo-Balt was nationalised on August 15, 1918, and renamed to Prombron by the new leadership. It continued the production of Russo-Balt cars and launched a new model on October 8, 1922, while AMO built FIAT 15 Ter trucks under licence and released a more modern FIAT-derived truck developed by a team of AMO designers, the AMO-F-15. About 6,000–6,500 F-15s were built in the years 1924–1931.[9][10] In 1927, engineers from the Scientific Automobile & Motor Institute (NAMI) created the first original Soviet car NAMI-I, which was produced in small numbers by the Spartak State Automobile Factory in Moscow, between 1927 and 1931.[11] In 1929, due to a rapidly growing demand for automobiles and in cooperation with its trade partner, the Ford Motor Company, the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy established GAZ.[12][13] A year later, a second automobile plant was founded in Moscow, which would become a major Soviet car maker after World War II and earn nationwide fame under the name Moskvitch. However, due to specific government aims and economic hardships of that time, cars were only a small share of all vehicles produced in the early years of Soviet production.

At the beginning of the 1960s, when MZMA, GAZ and ZAZ were offering a variety of cars and the popularity of having a personal automobile in the Soviet Union was on the rise, the Soviet government opted to build an even larger car manufacturing plant that would produce a people's car and help to meet the demand for personal transport.[14] For reasons of cost-efficiency, it was decided to sign a licence agreement with a foreign company and produce the car on the basis of an existing, modern model. Several options were considered, including Volkswagen, Ford, Peugeot, Renault and FIAT. The Fiat 124 was chosen because of its simple and sturdy design, being easy to manufacture and repair. 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 and was renamed Togliatti to commemorate Palmiro Togliatti.[14][15] At the same time, the Izhmash car plant was established in the city of Izhevsk as part of the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant, with the initiative coming from the Minister of Defence[16] and in order to increase the overall production of cars in the Soviet Union. It produced Moskvitchs and Moskvitch-based kombi hatchbacks. KaMAZ, Europe's largest heavy truck plant, was built in Naberezhnye Chelny, 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.

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, Byelorussian SSR was third at 40,000. Other Soviet republics (SSRs) did not have significant automotive industries. 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, Byelorussian, Georgian, Armenian, and Kyrghizian SSRs while buses were produced in the Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Tajik republics.

Domestic car production satisfied only 45% of the domestic demand; nevertheless, no import of cars was permitted.[17] There were queues for the purchase of cars and many domestic buyers often had to wait years for a new car. In the 1970s, passenger cars made by VAZ (Lada) and GAZ (Volga) were the most in demand. Volgas were the most prestigious vehicles sold to private buyers, although up to 60% of the production was reserved for state and party institutions. Always popular and available for sale were Moskvitch and Zaporozhets cars, as well as compact four-wheel-drive LuAZ vehicles. All-terrain cars made by UAZ were not available privately, but could be bought decommissioned. Limousine brands Chaika (GAZ factory) and ZIL were not available for the general public. Prior to 1988, private buyers were also not allowed to buy commercial vehicles like minibuses, vans, trucks or buses for personal use. Soviet industry exported 300,000-400,000 cars annually, mainly to Soviet Union satellite countries, but also to Northern America, Central and Western Europe, and Latin America. There were substantial numbers of highway trucks (Volvo, MAN from capitalist countries; LIAZ, Csepel and IFA from socialist countries) in some quantities, construction trucks (Magirus-Deutz, Tatra), delivery trucks (Robur and Avia) and urban, intercity and tourist buses (Ikarus, Karosa) imported as well.

Pre-Soviet automotive manufacturers

Russian Empire

Soviet automotive manufacturers

Armenian SSR

Azerbaijan SSR

Byelorussian SSR

Estonian SSR

Georgian SSR

Kirghiz SSR

Latvian SSR

Lithuanian SSR

Russian SFSR

Tajik SSR

Ukrainian SSR


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, automakers of the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States were integrated into a market economy and immediately hit by a crisis due to the loss of financial support, economic turmoil, criminal activities[19][20][21] and stiffer competition in the domestic market during the 1990s. Some of them, like AvtoVAZ, turned to cooperation with other companies (such as GM-AvtoVAZ) in order to obtain substantial capital investment and overcome the crisis.[22] Few others, like AZLK, became dormant, whereas ZAZ transformed itself into a new company, UkrAVTO.

In 1997, the production of cars in the Russian Federation increased by 13.2 percent in comparison with 1996 and achieved 981 thousands. AvtoVAZ and UAZ extended their output by 8.8 and 52 percent respectively, whereas KamAZ doubled it. The overall truck production in Russia increased by 7 percent, reaching 148 thousands in 1997[23] and 184 thousands in 2000.[24] The overall production of cars rose from about 800,000 in 1993 to more than 1.16 million in 2000,[25] or 965,000[26] (969,235 according to OICA[27]) excluding commercial vehicles.

Despite remaining strong on its home market, Lada had withdrawn from many export markets, namely the European Union member states, by the late 1990s as its model range failed to meet emissions requirements, and sales had been declining for several years, not helped by the facts that all of its models were at least a decade old and the economic crisis of the 1990s did not allow AvtoVAZ to reorganise and launch new models. It had enjoyed a strong presence in the United Kingdom, selling more than 30,000 units a year at its peak in the late 1980s, only to dwindle away to a fraction of that level by 1996. It was still producing the Fiat-derived Riva saloons and estates by this stage after some 30 years, although it had entered the modern hatchback market in the mid 1980s with the Samara, and since the late 1970s had produced the Niva four-wheel drive. It launched a brand new model with all-new bodyshell and a new range of mechanicals in 1995, with the 2110.

In later years Lada is again exported, mainly the all terrain car Niva but also van editions of the Granta are exported to countries like Germany and Sweden.

Post-Soviet automotive manufacturers










Historical production by year

Year Production of
vehicles total
Production of
1940 145,400 5,500
1945 74,700 5,000
1947 133,000 9,600
1950 362,900 64,600
1955 445,300 107,800
1958 511,100 122,200
1960 523,600 138,800
1965 616,300 201,200
1970 916,000 344,300
1975 1,963,900 1,201,200
1980 2,199,000 1,327,000
1985 2,247,500 1,332,300
1990 2,039,600 1,260,200

See also


  1. Hill M. Polzunov`s Engine: Innovation in Eighteenth Century Russia // Icon: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology. Volume 8. 2002. P. 127
  2. Kelly M. A. Russian Motor Vehicles: The Czarist Period 1784 to 1917. Veloce Publishing Ltd. 2009. P. 8
  3. Kelly (2009), p. 12
  4. Kelly (2009), p. 50ff
  5. Kelly (2009), pp. 71-72
  6. (Russian) "Andrei Platonovich Nagel (the organiser of the first Russian auto show)".
  7. Scalextric Rally Champions. Vol. I: The interwar period. Altaya. 2008. pp. 20-24.
  8. "Melbourne to Moscow".
  9. (Russian) "The AMO, known and unknown".
  10. (Russian) "Oldtimer picture gallery. The AMO-F-15".
  11. Kelly, (2009) p. 78-79
  12. "The Ford Motor Company in the Soviet Union in the 1920s-1930s" (PDF).
  13. "Soviet Fordism in Practice – Yale University" (PDF).
  14. 1 2 "AVTOVAZ Joint Stock Company History".
  15. (Russian) "The history of Togliatti".
  16. (Russian) "The history of the Russian automotive industry: IzhAvto". Za Rulem.
  17. Begley, Jason; Collis, Clive; Morris, David. "THE RUSSIAN AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY AND FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT" (PDF). Applied Research Centre in Sustainable Regeneration.
  18. "The Internationalization of the Automobile Industry and Its Effects on the U.S. Automobile Industry: Report on Investigation No. 332-188 Under Section 332 of the Tariff Act of 1930".
  19. Ireland A. D., Hoskisson R., Hitt M. Understanding Business Strategy: Concepts and Cases. Cengage Learning. 2005. P. 145
  20. Glazunov M. Business in Post-Communist Russia: Privatisation and the Limits of Transformation. Routledge. 2013. Pp. 80-82
  21. O’Neal M. Democracy, Civic Culture and Small Business in Russia's Regions: Social Processes in Comparative Historical Perspective. Routledge. 2015. P. 81
  22. "AVTOVAZ Joint Stock Company History".
  23. "The post-Soviet automobile industry: first signs of revival)" (PDF).
  24. (Russian) "Rosstat data".
  25. Overview of the Russian Automotive Sector // Kalicki J. H., Lawson E. K. Russian-Eurasian Renaissance? U.S. Trade and Investment in Russia and Eurasia. Stanford University Press. 2003. P. 219
  26. (Russian) "Rosstat data".
  27. "OICA data".

External links

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