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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Otis, the Only Way Is Up With Russian Partners

Repairing Russia's creaky, smelly, unreliable elevators may not be high on the list of urgent problems for which the former Soviet Union needs help from the West, but it is an issue that has surely crossed the mind of every visitor to a Russian office or apartment.

Why do the floors of some elevators sink a few inches after you enter the cabin? Why can you never know which floor the elevator is at or where it will deliver you? Why do the control buttons look like they have melted in a crash landing?

In an example of a practical improvement to Russian life, a U. S. firm has teamed up with several Russian partners to free Russian elevators of such annoying problems.

Mark Proft, deputy general manager of Shcherbinka Otis Lift, one of the joint ventures, said Otis has invested $50 million in five joint ventures that are servicing 70, 000 Russian elevators. Next month, he added, Otis will launch a local elevator production line as well.

"There is a tremendous need for better elevators on the Russian market", Proft said. He explained that many Russian elevators, running on outdated technology, do not accept more than one command. Others get confused on the way up and countless more are out of service because of poor maintenance.

Proft said that Russian elevator engines often last only two years, while better maintenance could make them last anywhere from 10 to 20 years.

Otis, a subsidiary of United Technologies is the largest elevator producer in the world with 1991 sales of $4. 3 billion.

Two of Oti's ventures, Mos Otis and Rus Otis, were set up specifically for servicing elevators in Moscow and throughout the former Soviet Union, Proft said. They offer slightly more advanced technology that gives them an edge over other cheaper Russian elevator repairmen.

Otis can replace the sinking floor, which is actually the Russian way of triggering the mechanism that indicates a passenger has entered the lift Proft said that instead, Otis uses a microprocessor that does the job without the shock effect.

They can also upgrade the electronic brain of the elevator, to ensure that passengers can request more than one destination so that one command does not cancel out an earlier one.

They can fortify the elevators against vandalism, "a tremendous problem in Russian elevators" according to Proft. Metal buttons do not melt if you push a cigarette butt against them, while lamp covers keep people from using elevators as a supply for scarce light bulbs.

Proft said that Oti's main task is to keep the elevators running, particularly the outdated "machine" that pulls up the cabin.

As lack of spare parts is a major cause for breakdowns. Otis is also setting up a small factory for producing spare parts, while the Shcherbinka factory will produce machines that lift Russian elevators.

The partners of Otis in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev provide electricians with years of experience in Russia's elevators. The partners also help the company find suppliers, one of the most difficult tasks for producers in Russia. Proft said that the company aimed to use only locally produced parts but that some are hard to find, others are low quality and a few, mostly electronic parts, are cheaper to import.

Oti's Russian partners also help the company to market its services to owners of office and apartment buildings, often city governments or new owners of privatized office and apartment buildings.

For those with a bigger budget, the Otis ventures offer to install new ones. A St. Petersburg venture will produce the first elevator in September, and the Otis joint ventures should produce 2, 000 elevators in 1994, Proft said.

But demand for elevators has fallen in recent years, and even the locally produced Otis elevators cost twice as much as local ones, Proft said. "It's challenging", Proft said of the task of selling the joint ventures production.

But he sees a growing market among constructors and renovators of private office and apartment buildings. Western hotels which now import Western Otis models might want to use the cheaper Russian model for staff elevators, he said.

Some of the Russian partners still produce their own elevators, but they will now offer clients the option of ordering the Otis elevators as well, Proft said. This way, Otis is building a market it would never be able to set up by merely importing elevators.