Moscow's Mayor Wants to Revive an Awful Old Soviet Automaker, Why?

Moskvitch 408 9 photos
Photo: Wikimedia Commons (Fair Use)
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Russia is a pretty wacky place to be at the best of times. But in very recent times, this has only increased by an exponential factor. With Renault-Nissan prepping to hand over their Moscow production facility to the Russian state, the Federation's come up with yet another kookie idea.
That being, to revive an old Russian automotive brand beloved by those who remember its hay day, mostly for being the only car around for miles at any given spot in the USSR. But also a few communist nations abroad, like Romania, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and other countries under the Russian influence, where these cars were very much appreciated by those lucky enough to own them. All while being equally mocked and vilified in western countries for being downright atrocious. The moniker in question is Moskvitch, roughly translating to a "fine, proud citizen of Moscow." Why and how the Russian state put plans in place to revive a brand little known outside of the former Soviet Union is a story rooted in their ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

It's a tale already thoroughly etched into the pages of history only months after it happened. Russia's armed forces stormed into Ukrainian territory, leaving a trail of fire and destruction in its wake. All the while, the rest of the world couldn't and very often flatly refused to justify condoning Russian President Vladimir Putin's clear unprovoked act of attrition against Ukraine. By extension, this also meant selling their respective products as well.

All of this leads us to Renault-Nissan and their now former Russian automotive asset AutoVAZ. In what must have felt like record time, the company agreed to sell 100% of its holdings and assets in the Russian Federation back under the control of Putin's regime in May 2022. Making their announcement via Renault-Nissan's CEO, Luca de Meo.

Mr. de Meo, who was handed the reigns after the scandalous resignation of the group's old CEO Carlos Ghosn, was clear to emphasize what a substantial loss this move would be in the long term despite initial profits, which may or may not result from the initial sale, including a buy-back clause allowing Russian-native assets for one ruble, and potentially, allowing the group to repurchase their assets for one measly ruble once all the chaos calms down.

Russian Oligarchs have money to burn, but as of late May 2022, the ins and outs of those details have yet to be uncovered. But what will, in all probability, be a big fat "L" on the face of Renault-Nissan, it could potentially be a big win for Putin and the Mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin.

An automotive brand whose name roughly translates to "a proud native of Moscow" or "Moscovite" coming back from the dead after more than 20 years sounds like a wet dream for any Mayor of Moscow. It's an ambition Sergei Sobyanin has expressed great interest in during his mayorship going back to the very early 2010s. Apart from consistent scandals related to the systematic oppression of the Russian LGBT community signed off on by Putin himself. Renault-Nissan themselves attempted to purchase the Mokcvitch moniker from Volkswagen some point after the turn of the millennium. With them out of the picture entirely, there's not much of anything even VW can do to stop the Russian State from using the brand anymore. Okay,

As for Moskvitch, a few government automakers and then a couple of privately owned entities bore the Moskvitch name. All of them with more acronyms than Soviet bureaucrats could shake a stick at before going to sleep at night with their communist party ID card under their pillow. In this regard, the brand was known for two family sedan models, the 408 and the 412, along with a few others like the "Kombi" estate car. All of these were quickly and cheaply maintainable to the point they could outlast your grandchildren with enough oil changes and elbow grease.

The two cars survived the brand's full privatization in 1991. Remaining in production for ten years after the fall of the Soviet Union before being dissolved in 2001. As Life of Boris on YouTube once proclaimed of the Moskvitch 412, "The base configuration comes with not one, but two completely functioning windscreen wipers, which you can use to clean off any wildlife that you have hit. And in front, there are two-directional lanterns that you can use to illuminate a target that you are driving towards. And you will hit because the breaks are completely made up of pancakes." We couldn't have said better ourselves.

As for what a potentially revived Moskvitch brand may look like, one can only assume it would begin with some form of an economy sedan as it did for decades prior. Whether they're petroleum-powered, all-electric, or powered by Putin's seething hatred of the west and all who inhabit it has yet to be seen as well. Whatever the case may be, it surely isn't Renault-Nissan's problem anymore.
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