Kazan, 19 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and other top officials today watched the first Chevrolet Blazer off-road vehicle roll from the assembly lines in Tatarstan.
In a ceremony, the leaders watched as the luxurious General Motors-designed Blazer emerged complete from assembly -- the first of 200 such vehicles to be built monthly at the YelAZ plant in Yelabuga.
Present at the ceremony, apart from Chernomyrdin, were the chief of staff of President Boris Yeltsin, Anatoly Chubais; the president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev; and representatives of General Motors of America.
The all-terrain Blazer sports utility will cost in Russia between $23,000 and $25,000. In the words of GM's publicity, it has a rugged truck chassis combined with comfort and roominess and "an abundance of style."
The head of International Communications at General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Chris Mattingley, told RFE/RL that the Tatarstan Blazer version will be the same, with minor variations, as the vehicle produced for the U.S. domestic market. Mattingley said GM sees a major potential market for the Blazer around the former U.S.S.R.
YelAz Director Ravil Zaripov called the start of production a step into a new era of Tatar-American relations, and in the history of the ancient city of Yelabuga.
An RFE/RL correspondent in Tatarstan reports that the local production is booked up through March. More then 60 percent of parts will be produced on the territory of Tatarstan and neighboring regions. As demand increases, annual production is foreseen as 50,000 units.
The producer company is YelAZ-GM, a joint venture in which GM owns 25 percent, with the remainder divided equally between the Tatarstan Republic and the Russian Federation.
Our correspondent calls today's startup significant in that it is in marked contrast to the continuing decrease in production volume around Russia. It is a positive example of cooperation between companies in Tatarstan and the United States.
The YelAZ factory is a child of the perestroyka era, in that the then Soviet leader Mikhail Grobachev decided in 1985 to establish it as a new tractor producing plant to satisfy the needs of Soviet agriculture.
The plant is built on a huge scale outside Yelabuga, which is also near the famous KamAZ truck factory. Building work continued in sections of the plant for the next decade, and it ran into the usual difficulties associated with Soviet enterprises, including lack of finance or clear objectives, and no tractors were actually produced there.
In the post-Soviet era YelAz tried to find Italian, French and South Korean partners for car production, but without success.
However, on December 7, 1995 the contract with GM was concluded, thus laying the foundation for the successful operation of the YelAZ plant at last.