Sleek and glistening, the General Motors sedans creep off the
assembly line here. They are as new as cars can get. And so is the
assembly line, where the first test cars emerged this month.
Even as G.M. is scaling back elsewhere in Europe, the company is ramping up production in Russia, a country that is becoming a bright spot for G.M. and much of the rest of the automotive industry.
Trickle-down oil wealth and the spread of easily accessible financing are lifting sales, which rose 40 percent in the first half of this year from the period a year earlier. G.M., Ford, Volkswagen, Nissan and Renault are all opening new plants, or intend to do so soon.
The new G.M. assembly line in this picturesque town, an old center of the Russian car industry on the Volga River, will produce 30,000 Aveo sedans a year. Cars coming off the assembly line end up in a brilliantly illuminated inspection room, where every inch is carefully examined. If all goes well, production will start in January.
The site is one of half a dozen facilities that G.M. runs in Russia, where the Detroit automaker intends to invest $1 billion over the next five years. The money is a good bet today, analysts of the Russian market say, for the same reason that politics here recently got a jolt with street protests: the Russian middle class is rising, and becoming a force in both commerce and public life.
"I would put Russia in the same breath as China," Timothy E. Lee, the head of G.M.'s international division, said at a groundbreaking ceremony last summer for a plant in St. Petersburg that will make midprice sedans.
Russians are snatching up foreign-branded cars. The Hyundai Solaris was the best-selling vehicle in Russia last year. Hyundai, Nissan and Renault all did well in the first 11 months of this year, with sales increases ranging from 11 percent to 23 percent.
Over all, Russian car sales are now approaching three million cars annually, according to the Association of European Businesses, a group that tracks sales here as part of its efforts to promote trade between Russia and the European Union.
Russia is projected to surpass Germany and become the largest car market in Europe in 2014. It is already nipping at Germany's lead. In August, Russians bought more cars than Germans did, before sales tapered off in the autumn.
International car companies say the best way to benefit from the growth is through investing heavily in Russian manufacturing, elbowing aside local brands.
The Russian automobile industry survived the financial crisis not through subsidies, though these were handed out, but through a willingness to embrace foreign manufacturers -- even if that hurt homegrown brands like the Lada and the Volga, the model once made in the plant here.
Russians have shown little nostalgia for their own cars.
"I'm glad they're gone," said Nikolai Chernyshov, a 34-year-old lawyer, as his family spilled out of a Ford Focus at a shopping center. He has not shed a tear, he said, for the Lada he once drove.
"No matter what effort we put into making them better, they never got any better," he said.
The Volga, an overpowered slab of steel, was once the vehicle of choice of K.G.B. agents. It even had an ominous nickname, the Black Raven. But the cars often broke down, diminishing their cachet.
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