Togliatti was formerly known as Stavropol, although the original city is now under the reservoir created by the Kuybyshev Dam in 1957. A new city was built nearby and renamed in 1964 after Italian communistPalmiro Togliatti, reflecting Avtovaz’s early partnership with Fiat.
The part of Togliatti built to house Lada workers is known as the ‘new city’, although it’s very definitely showing its age – a mix of concrete tower blocks and straight roads and paths. It’s all very 1960s.
At its peak, more than 100,000 employees worked at the Togliatti plant, which sprawls over nearly 1500 acres and more than 185 miles of production lines, including separate powertrain and component lines, along with a wind tunnel, test track and a car safety research centre. Today, 36,500 people work there. In 2017, 387,000 cars were built on its three production lines, but it has the capacity for 780,000 vehicles a year.The main production line runs virtually the entire length of a 1400m-long building and, since 2012, has been used to make models built on the B0 platform – not just Lada’s X-Ray and Largus, but also the Renault/Dacia Logan and Sandero and the Nissan Almera.
That line has also been the subject of a major modernisation programme, with Renault working to bring the plant in line with the standards of other Renault-Nissan- Mitsubishi facilities.
“The alliance has allowed us to speed up the transformation much faster than Avtovaz could do alone,” says Ales Bratoz, Avtovaz’s production boss. “When we started to look in 2012, the gap from here to other alliance plants was very big. Today, we are applying and integrating production standards to reach the same level as other plants. We are transforming lines and improving working conditions, quality and efficiency.”
Stand alongside that B0 production line, marvelling at the stream of semi-finished bodyshells stretching out of sight in either direction, and you will still see more manual labour than more modern car plants elsewhere in the world. But you can also see the modernisation in action: new processes, equipment, machinesandrobots.
You can also see Lada’s modernisation at work on the roads around Togliatti: the firm is in the process of revamping and upgrading its dealerships, to make them more enticing and offer better customer service. That’s particularly vital because the unrivalled breadth of Lada’s dealer network is a key edge it has over its rivals, particularly bold, well-funded Chinese firms increasingly entering the market. “To enter the Russian market is not so easy,” says Caracatzanis. “You need a strong dealer network.”