Lada’s history can be traced back to the 60’s when a car plant opened as part of a joint venture between communist Russia and Italy. Built on the Volga river, the factory triggered the accelerated development of a nearby Italian-communist-named town Toglietti who eventually grew around the plant, forming a small industrial community.
Fiat models were the basis of early Ladas who were intended as a “people’s car” form their inception. The platform of the Fiat 124 was adapted to meet the requirements of Russian driving conditions, at temperatures below zero Celsius and rough terrain. In order to achieve a rugged construction, the outer body was hardened, the overall ground clearance increased and aluminum brakes were fitted in the rear. The engine was replaced with a newer design sporting an overhead camshaft. Strangely, the engine, which was better than the one found on Fiat models, was never used by Fiat.
Cold was the main cause of engine malfunction in Russia and precautions were taken to avoid “inconveniences” like getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with few chances of survival. Thus, an auxiliary manual fuel pump was mounted as well as a starting handle to cover for sudden battery loss.
Lada, as it is commonly thought, is not an auto producer but a trademark belonging to Russian manufacturer Autovoz. As the name itself suggests, Lada cars were built simple and long-lasting, much like Eastpak does its backpacks today. The first Fiat-inspired models included sedans (VAZ 2101) and station wagons ( VAZ 2102) which were later followed by the introduction of luxury versions such as the VAZ 2103, boasting twin headlights and an improved 1.5 L gasoline engine.
By the time the 1980’s came, Lada had already developed newer and fresher models. A great example of design improvement was the Niva, released in 1978. The model was quick to earn the Russians’ admiration through its new body style, all-wheel drive system and powerful 1.7 liter engine.
Several improvements over earlier models followed later with the release of the Sputnik, a 3-door hatchback that was later renamed Samsara. The development of newer Ladas benefitted from collaborations with German producers like Porsche with whom it worked over improving combustion chambers.
Some of the models produced during that time like the VAZ 2105 and the 2107 went by under the name of Zhiguli which was later dropped because of resemblances to the word “gigolo”. Production continued until the factory was forced to postpone its new 110 range in the wake of the communist regime fall.
90’s models include the Gnom, a micro car close to the Nissan Micra in terms of appearance and the 92’ released Natacha, a sporty coupe. Lada may seem to have operated underground compared to other car-producers but it has successfully unfolded its operations in other parts of the world such as Asia and South America.
Presently part of a larger group alongside Renault and Nissan, Lada is fast pacing through Russian economy which is currently booming, partly thanx to its automotive industry. Following some major transactions involving Lada stock share sales, Russia has turned almost over night into the world’s fastest growing auto markets. According to company estimates, care sales are soon to exceed ones registered by the German market.
Undergoing a complex process of restructuring, Lada is planned to double its sales in Russia and to be reintroduced to the world by 2015. Meanwhile, the Russian manufacturer is harvesting profits garnered by its current lineup, comprised of the Samara based Samara 2 3-door and 5-door hatchback, The Kalina, the Priora and the Porsche co-developed Silhouette.