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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Blesses Opening of Toyota Plant Near St. Pete

Japanese auto giant Toyota on Friday opened an assembly factory near St. Petersburg to meet accelerating demand.

The 5 billion ruble ($202 million) plant will put together 20,000 Camry cars next year and raise capacity to 50,000 vehicles in 18 months, Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe said at an opening ceremony attended by Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina, which was followed by a plant tour with President Vladimir Putin.

Toyota's factory, located in the Shushary district on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, follows Ford among five foreign carmakers with plants in or planned for the city and the Leningrad region.

The plant, which took about 2 1/2 years to build, will employ more than 600 workers and eventually assemble 300,000 cars per year. The city, which upgraded utilities and roads serving the site, is considering extending the metro to reach the area, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said at the ceremony.

General Motors is building a factory in Shushary with annual capacity of 70,000 cars, which is scheduled to open in 2008, and the following year, Nissan will open a plant in the area. South Korea's Hyundai announced plans Dec. 17 to build a $400 million, 100,000-vehicle plant in St. Petersburg by 2010.

Putin hailed the plant's opening as a good sign for Russian-Japanese relations, which have been strained over the Kuril Islands.

"The relationship between Russia and Japan is getting better, and the opening of the plant is a serious step to increase the trust between the two countries," Putin said. "The expansion of trade and economic ties between our countries will help the solution of other problems."