Carmakers Putting Their Best Wheels Forward

For MTPeople visiting the Moscow Automobile Salon at the Crocus Expo center last year. Fifty cars are expected to premiere at the car show, which opens Tuesday.
With Russia quickly overtaking European countries to become the biggest car market, perhaps it is no surprise that a record number of carmakers have picked Moscow to unveil new models.

Fifty cars, including several specifically designed for the Russian market, will make their debut at Russia's biggest car show, the Moscow Automobile Salon (MIAS-2008), which opens Tuesday.

"We expect 50 premieres, while we only had 22 of them in 2006," said Arkady Zlotnikov, deputy head of the Crocus Expo International Exhibition Center, which, along with the Association of Russian Carmakers, is organizing the exhibition.

"Some of the cars are designed specially for the Russian market, like the Mazda Kazamai, which is due to be unveiled at our show for the first time in the world," Zlotnikov said.

The Mazda Kazamai is a SUV concept car meant to appeal to younger SUV owners who have a strong sense of style, Zlotnikov said.

The car show will also offer the European debut of the Mazda CX-9, a full-size crossover SUV that has been described as a "modern station wagon."

Audi, meanwhile, will present a new edition of the Audi A6, its successful business-class sedan, and the brand-new Audi RS 6, while Mitsubishi will unveil its new Pajero Sport SUV.

Russia has been selected for the debuts because of its unprecedented car sales, Zlotnikov said.

Russia passed Germany as Europe's biggest automobile market in the first half of this year, as sales jumped 41 percent to 1.65 million cars, led by demand for models by U.S. and Asian carmakers, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers last month. Spending on cars grew 64 percent to a record $33.8 billion, the report said.

Gasoline prices are high in Russia as in the rest of the world, but that has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of a car-loving population with soaring personal incomes and easy access to car loans.

In part because of the sales, the Moscow car show has been upgraded to " category A" by the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles/OICA, putting it on par for the first time with annual car shows in Geneva, Paris, London, Detroit and Frankfurt.

"This is the first time that such a car show has been held in Russia," Zlotnikov said.

Another record this year will be the number of participants at the show -- 30 countries will be represented, Zlotnikov said. More than 1.5 million visitors are expected to attend the event, which runs through Sept. 7.

The exhibit space for the show will cover 63,000 square meters and will be open 12 hours a day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Aug. 26, 27: Opening days for the media and invited guests.
Aug. 28: Business day, for specialists, wholesalers and suppliers. Admission: 2,000 rubles.
Aug. 29-Sept. 7: Regular days. Admission: 300 rubles (Monday-Friday) 400 rubles (Saturday and Sunday). Children 7 and under: free. Children 7 to 12: 150 rubles.
Free Crocus Expo shuttle buses will operate between the exhibition center and the Planernaya metro station from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1. Web site: eng.mas-expo.ru, tel. 727-2631.