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Soviet Automotive Industry

It is a subject of conjecture as to when the Russian auto industry actually began. Popular opinion seems to have it as the 28th June 1918, when Lenin visited the AMO engineering works in Moscow and made a stirring speech, promising the sons and daughters of the Revolution that Russia would now step into the motor age. In 1925 a new State department, Autotrust, was formed for the purpose of planning and building the motor industry, and under its auspices production was increased. The Ministry of Automobile Industry [Minavtoprom] was the Soviet agency responsible for the automotive industry. Before 1965 the automotive industry was subordinate to several different administrative organiutions including: the Central Administration of State Automotive Plants (1924): the People‘s Commissariat for Medium Machine Building (l94l-45): the Ministry of the Automobile industry (1945-47]: the Ministry of the Automobile and Tractor Industry (1947-53): the Ministry of Machine Building (1953-54); and the Ministry of the Automobile Industry (l955-57). In l957 most industrial ministries were abolished and replaced with regional economic councils.

In the late 1980s the Ministries of Livestock Machine Building and Agricultural Machine Building were combined. And then the Ministry of Agricultural Machine Building was fused with the Ministry of Automobile Industry and the Ministries of Heavy Machine Building and Power Machine Building were combined.

The Russian appetite for personal automobiles is voracious. During Soviet times, average citizens spent years on waiting lists for the 4 or 5 models of car available, most based on 1960s technology. Quality control was minimal, as whatever product rolled off the production line was eagerly snapped up. Throughout the economic turmoil of the 1990s, as many industries declined precipitously, Russia's giant auto plants remained relatively unaffected. With the advent of high inflation, auto parts even became a valuable barter commodity.

Stalinist pressure for rapid industrialization and appreciation for economies of scale brought about the construction in the late 1920s and early 1930s of massive factories manufacturing highly standard vehicle and slowly changing product lines. Construction of the Moscow (ZIL), Gor‘kiy, and Yaroslavl' plants increased production from a few thousand vehicles in 1928 to 200,000 vehicles in l937, nearly all of them trucks.

The ZIL, Gor‘kiy, and Yaroslavl‘ plants were partly or totally built by Western firms. During the war, US Lend-Lease aid established several assembly plants and also included the delivery of 417,000 complete vehicles, most of them all-wheel-drive trucks.

After the capitulation of Nazi Germany, the Soviets acquired the entire Opel manufacturing line in Brandenburg. The brand-new Moskvich-400, which rolled off the production line in 1947, was in fact a re-engineered Opel Kadett. German war reparations provided a considerable infusion of capital, and US truck and engine designs acquired through the Lend-Lease program were, used to establish the postwar generation of vehicles.

Additional plant construction after World War II supported an average annual increase in vehicle production — mostly general purpose medium trucks — of almost 15 percent between 1946 and 1958. Much of this extensive growth was sustained by the sometimes opportunistic import of Western technology, creating a patchwork of manufacturing plant and equipment.

In early 1946 the Soviet Ministry of Automobile Industry set up a work group of engineers to develop racing cars. They had access to the Auto Union cars at the NAMI [the Research Institut for Automobile Industry and Development - in Moscow], studied them intensively and used their knowledge to design and built the bodywork of a streamlined 350cc race car called "Swesda" (="Star"). It used a two-stroke DKW UL359 engine, and looked - not surprisingly - like a mixture of a 1937 Auto Union streamliner and John Cobb's "Railton Mobil Special" record car. Later the Swesda was further modified and developed. In all four Auto Unions were dismantled at the NAMI, among them one streamliner, and thereby destroyed.

The work of scientific-research and planning and design organizations in fulfilling the 1963 national economic plan for new equipment was conducted under the new conditions of centralized leadership of these organizations by State Committees for industrial branches. The decree of the November 1962 Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, "Concerning the Development of the Economy of the USSR and Reorganization of the Party Leadership Over the National Economy", was issued after a report by Comrade N.S.Khrushchev.

The reorganization of design services at motor vehicle plants with a specialization of the main design bureaus was in accordance with the types of motor vehicles in each class or within a range of load capacities. The main design bureaus would have to be responsible for the development of motor vehicles of a given class and for a unification in the design of their assemblies, units and parts, because the variety of types of various assemblies and parts in vehicles of a similar load capacity complicates the organization of repair and operation of the motor vehicle pool.

In the 1950-60s Moskvich did not rest on its laurels. The plant produced tens of thousands of new cars yearly and churned out plenty of new models, including the highly successful saloon car Moskvich-407, which received an award at Expo 58 in Brussels. In the 1970s, Moskvich exported half its output. In the 1970s, several experimental models of hatchback and two-door sedan were created in USSR. ZAZ-1102 Tavria, a 3-door hatchback released in 1987, was the first model of the range.

The Volga GAZ-24 model which appeared in 1970 saw most widespread use as a Taxi cab and police cruiser (and was also a huge status symbol among the Soviet elite - despite being obsolete and cramped even by the standards of the 70s). Moskvich faced the first signs of decline in the mid-1970s, as it failed to keep up with the pace of the automotive industry. Its new models 2140 and 2141 left much to be desired in terms of both interior and exterior.

From 1970 to 1979, automobile production grew by nearly 1 million units per year, and truck production grew by 250,000 per year. The production ratio of automobiles to trucks increased in that time from 0.7 to 1.7, indicating that more attention was being given to the consumer market.

Automobile production was concentrated in four facilities: the Volga (in Tol'yatti), Gor'kiy, Zaporozh'ye, and Likhachev (Moscow) plants. The Volga plant was built in the late 1960s especially for passenger automobiles; by 1975 it was making half the Soviet total. The Likhachev and Gor'kiy plants, both in operation for more than fifty years, made automobiles and trucks.

Truck production was less centralized, with plants in Kutaisi (Georgian Republic), the Urals, Tiraspol' (Moldavian Republic), Kremenchug (Ukrainian Republic), Minsk (Belorussian Republic), Mytishchi (Moscow area), and Naberezhnyye Chelny (eastern Russian Republic), the site of the large showpiece Kama River plant built in the late 1970s. The Volga and Kama plants were located away from the established population centers; in both cases, new towns were built for transplanted workers.

Automotive R&D was conducted by two specialized independent scientific research institutes and by the new departments of the principal plants. The Central Scientific Research Institute for Automobiles (NAMI) researched vehicle design, materials, and components. NAMI‘s scientists consult and cooperate with plant designers — especially regarding vehicle quality and service life — but did not have primary responsibility for developing vehicles. The Scientific Research Institute for the Technology of the Automotive Industry (NIITavtoprom) researched new production processes, equipment, and managentent techniques and helps to facilitate their introduction into production at the plants. NIITavtoprom conducted research on technologies - such as machine tools, robotics, and factory automation — that were applicable to many industries and formulates technical standardsfor automtive production technology.

Vehicle design bureaus at selected production plants generally integrate technology and make the final decisions on overall product and process design, although they interacted extensively with NAMI and NIlTavtoprom. Several plant design bureaus also influenced development and thus affected likely paths for difusion of technology throughout the industry.

On 04 May 1968 Fiat and the Soviet Government announced agreement for joint planning and construction of an automobile factory in Togliattigrad. Palmiro Togliatti was the head of the Italian Communist Party during its very militant days following World War II. The agreement was signed on August 15. Fiat would assist in the construction of a new Soviet automobile plant which would produce from 1000 to 2000 cars per day of the American compact type. In addition, Fiat would help the USSR to modernize existing plants which now turn out about 200,000 cars per year.

Most Russian automobile manufacturers had been building the same model since their inception. For instance, AvtoVAZ’s Zhiguli (Lada) has scarcely developed beyond its 1969 prototype. Russia’s largest automaker, AvtoVAZ, required 450 labor-hours to produce an automobile that is typically produced in western Europe in 28 labor-hours. The low level of efficiency at which Russian automakers operated forced the government to support the industry through everything from outright subsidies to joint government-plant ownership. Major portions of the Russian auto industry are 10-12 years behind other automakers.

The Soviet leadership challenged the motor vehicle industry to raise vehicle quality and manufacturing productivity to world standards in support of cconornywide efforts to increase industrial elliciency. The industry was directed in 1986 to produce fuel-efficient, longer lived vehicles that will create the basis for a better balanced transportation system and reduce manpower and material requirements.

Although the industry had been a leader in the Soviet Union in developing and introducing new manufacturing technologies and processes and had served as approving ground for industrial automation, efforts to modernize antiquated and overstaffed automobile plants had been complicated by the great diversity in plant size, level and origin of technology, and product mix. The plants were equipped with a patchwork of machinery drawn from various domestic and foreign sources and operated at widely varying levels of output and efficiency. Plants did not compete with each other because their vehicle lines for the most part were specialized to serve particular customers and because excess consumer demand assured individual producers a ready market. These conditions hindered the efforts of planners to bring about improved performance. particularly through the difi‘usion and assimilation of new production technology.

Industry modernization in the 1980s built on the achievements of a 1966-80 initiative that called for increased output of cars to enhance consumer welfare and increased production of heavy and light trucks to bring about better balance in the truck fleet. Investment during l965-80 continued the traditional concentration on expanding capacity. This effort was highlighted by the construction of the Volga car plant (operational in l97l) and the Kama River truck plant (1976) and was supported by the acquisition of Western manufacturing equipment and technolOgy worth approximately $4.3 billion.

According to the Soviet Central Statistical Administration, vehicle production rose from just over 600,000 units in 1965 to almost 2 million in 1975. During the late l970s and early 1980s, however, the Soviets chose to spread investment more evenly throughout the industry and increasingly opted to upgrade technology to improve productivity in established plants.

According to the official automotive industry journal, during the late l970s roughly l,000 automated and 700 mechanized lines. 32 automated management systems, and 16 computer centers were installed throughout the industry. and during the early 1980s numerous numerically controlled tools, machining centers. robots, and process controls were installed. The Soviets chose to draw more evenly on Western, East European, and domestic sources for this equipment. Identified orders for Western equipment equaled about $1.6 billion during 1976-85, and machinery production within the motor vehicle industry—a major source for its own equipment — reportedly increased rapidly during l976-80. The Soviets claim that by 1983 at least 80 percent of all manufacturing processes and 90 percent of all foundry operations were automated or mechanized.

Long-term truck planning (through the year 2000) emphasized large capacity, fuel economy, and service life; the last two qualities were deficient in earlier models. The drive for fuel economy has encouraged the use of natural and liquefied gas. Heavy truck and trailer production was to occupy more than 40 percent of the truck industry by 1990, doubling tractor-trailer production. Vehicle parts plants were widely dispersed in the European sector of the country. Policy for the Soviet automotive industry has emphasized two divergent goals: increasing the supply of private automobiles as a symbol of attention to the consumer; and supporting heavy industry with improved equipment for heavy transport and material handling.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2016 21:10:02 ZULU