MOSCOW -- As the exodus of Western automakers narrows options for Russian consumers, Chinese automakers are filling the gap, forcing Russians to overcome their reluctance to embrace Chinese brands and accept higher prices.
Chinese brands such as Haval, Chery and Geely now account for almost 40 percent of Russia's new-car sales, data from analytical agency Autostat and consulting company PPK showed, up from less than 10 percent in January-February of 2022. Chinese brands have jumped on the opportunity left by the exit of automakers including Renault, Nissan and Mercedes.
But there are teething problems. Reuters spoke to several Russian car buyers - individuals and dealerships - who perceived the quality of some Chinese cars to be lower than Western rivals and industry experts said
Chinese manufacturers needed to enhance their reputation even as their market share soars.
Stepan, 28, who has increasingly driven Chinese cars when using carsharing services, is among those that need convincing. Among his complaints was the smoothness of the drive.
"I managed to buy a Skoda in 2022. If you want my honest opinion, the difference (with Chinese cars) is massive," he told Reuters at Moscow's Favorit Motors dealership.
Czech automaker Skoda, part of Volkswagen Group and one of several Western automakers that had local car production, is in the final stages of a deal to sell its Russian assets in the wake of Western sanctions after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine last February.
When buying his new Chinese car, Alexander, 74, looked for one which encompassed Swedish technology.
"I believe that in time the reliability will improve," he said. "For example, I know that (Geely) Tugella has a Volvo engine. This sold this car for me."
Russia's former president Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday after a visit to China in December that cooperation with Chinese manufacturers was good and consumers' perceptions were out of date.
"We used to laugh at some of their designs, but I went for a ride in a local car and looked at others," he said. "I'll say bluntly: the car I drove was certainly no worse than a Mercedes."