Chrysler in Russia: Stratus/Sebring and Moskvich Aleko
Building Chrysler Sebrings in Russia
In April 2006, Chrysler announced that Gorky Automotive Works (GAZ), a Russian automaker, was buying Chrysler's entire Sterling Heights production line and moving it to Russia, where the Sebring and Stratus got a new lease on life - under license. It was announced at the time that 65,000 vehicles would be made each year - well under the plant's capacity but quite a bit for Russia. GAZ said it would buy Chrysler 2.4 liter engines made in Mexico (the 2.0-liter based ones used in first-generation PT Cruisers, not the World Engines) for GAZ's vehicles, in a long-term contract. The Sterling Heights plant stopped building the “JR” (second-generation Stratus/Sebring) cars in May 2006, in favor of a new design which was, ironically, not as favorably received.
The Chrysler Sebring was built from 2008 to the end of 2010 in Russia by GAZ, in Novgorod, with few and minor changes; in the end, the economic crisis dropped sales below viability, and the plant was switched to contract manufacturing for other worldwide automakers.
DaimlerChrysler Automotive Russia
Daimler Automotive Russia ZAO, renamed DaimlerChrysler in 2000, was a Russian enterprise with a 100% foreign capital, created in 1994 as part of Mercedes-Benz AG. The first foreign automobile company to be established in Russia, the Leningrad-based outfit had 250 workers and sold Mercedes, Maybachs, Chryslers, Dodges, and Jeeps. In 2005, the company had 38 dealers for Mercedes and 12 for Chrysler and Jeep. It sold the full line of Chryslers (aside from V6 300s and Pacificas), the Dodge Caliber and Viper, and the full range of Jeeps (with Liberty sold as Cherokee, as it is everywhere but the US). Support for the Chrysler dealers was picked up by Fiat when DaimlerChrysler split up.
The Moskvich Aleko (Keith Adams and Andy Thompson)
First shown in Europe at the 1988 Paris Salon, the Moskvich Aleko was a huge advance over its predecessor. However many in the press commented on its similarity with the Talbot 1510 (Chrysler Alpine), and wondered if the car was the result of a collaborative effort. PSA (Peugeot, buyer of Chrysler Europe) stated firmly that there were no links between the companies, and that the resemblance was purely coincidental. The styling link between the two was put down to Eastern European plagiarism. The Aleko (as it was known in Europe) looked remarkably similar to the 1510/Alpine, although the flanks look much more solid than the original, thanks to the loss of its sharp swage lines.
There has since been considerable retrospective speculation that perhaps Chrysler and Moskvich discussed plans, although no evidence has yet surfaced which would corroborate this theory. In fact, when asked about the Moskvich Aleko, and whether it was linked to the Alpine in any way, Chrysler’s Roy Axe’s answer was a firm “no.” Moskvich, however, bought a number of Alpines when it started developing the Aleko, and probably did a credible imitation through reverse engineering.
The Russian Wikipedia entry claimed that bodyshell design of the 4th generation Moskvich was based on the SIMCA 1307, quoting engineers as saying that the first М-2141 prototype used a SIMCA frame with new body panels and domestic running gear.
The Aleko was imported into some European markets, and occupied the budget end of the market where East European products traditionally resided. Production continued into the 21st century, though Moskvich’s financial problems in the 1990s meant that many Alekos were left to languish, half-built, due to a shortage of money with which to pay suppliers. Later models had a Renault engine option.
JVint wrote: “The Moskvich 2141 Aleko is directly based on the Simca body. The Simca was shown in an exhibition of French technology held in Moscow in the late seventies; heads of the Communist Party liked it and ordered Moskvich to make a copy. I have heard that first batch of Alekos made for factory testing in the early eighties had actual Simca bodies with a modified front end. The Moskvich factory went bankrupt in 2001.”