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Poland: Belarus Truck Production Underway

Warsaw, Poland; 21 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Production of Belarusian MAZ trucks has started at a new assembly line at Slupsk in northern Poland.

The joint project, between MAZ of Minsk and the Chemix factory at Slupsk, near the Baltic coast, is starting off in a small way. Plans are in hand for initial assembly this year of 300 heavy-haulage vehicles for use with articulated trailers.

Chemix sales director Przemyslaw Sieroslawski told RFE/RL yesterday that some 50 units have already been produced from the assembly line -- and he adds with an air of confidence that all of them are already sold.

Vehicle assembly is a new field for Chemix, which as its name suggests, has hitherto produced chemical products. The company was facing closure unless it found an alternative activity, so with considerable boldness it has undertaken to assemble the trucks from Belarusian-supplied parts and with technical support from Belarusian experts.

The sturdy MAZ vehicles have a good reputation around the old Soviet Union and are one of the "flagships" of Belarusian industry. The Polish company has been attracted to the vehicles because it sees a ready market within Poland for long haul trucks at the prices it can offer.

Sieroslawski says the basic version, which is foreseen as the main seller, if being offered at a very competitive $25,000, fitted with a Russian made 180 horsepower engine. A deluxe version, fitted with a German-built 380 HP MAN engine and equipped with features now standard on the international market, such as air conditioning, anti-block power brakes and 16-speed gearbox, goes for $64,000. This version is expected to sell to Polish freight companies which cover routes through West Europe.

The deluxe version has type-approval for operation in the European Union, but Sieroslawski is cautious about chances of selling on that huge market, despite the price advantage even the top model has over Western rivals. Truckers are a conservative lot within an intensely competitive industry, and gaining credence for a new product is not easy when even established makes like Mercedes-Benz have difficulty achieving satisfactory sales.

Instead, the sales strategists at Slupsk are drawing up plans for possible export of the Polish-assembled MAZ to the countries of CEFTA -- the Central European Free Trade Agreement. These are Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Romania as well as Poland itself.

The scale of the Slupsk operation is however dwarfed by the plans of the Japanese company Isuzu to build car engines in the Katowice special economic zone in Silesia. Isuzu intends to invest in the new plant in the next two years up to 200 million Deutschemarks. Initial production should reach some 150 thousand engines annually. Polish Prime Minister Wlodzmierz Cimoszewicz says that this major investment is something of a "litmus test" of the economic conditions created in Poland. He says that if Poland passes this test, Japanese companies -- hopefully -- will return with more investment.