A London-based Lada Niva importer has listed what is likely to be the last-ever version of the Russian off-roader brought into the UK.
With sanctions against the eastern powerhouse growing just over a year on from its invasion of Ukraine, business is about to end for importer Mark Key, who brought his first Niva to the UK in 2010. His last is expected to be the currently for-sale high-spec Bronto Prestige.
“It ended the business full stop,” he said of the conflict.
However, with an estimated death toll of 200,000 which rises almost daily, Key acknowledges the impact on his firm is trivial, and admits to “genuine distress” at what is happening.
Key became interested in the Niva came after recognising the car’s potential during a ski holiday in the Alps; he noted how it was one of the few trusted (alongside snow-chained Renault 5s and Fiat Panda 4x4s) to deal with the very worst conditions.
The importing process was not straightforward, however: “Various emails and letters to the Russian embassy resulted in little. Finally, I got a positive reply from a Lada export agent. I ordered a standard white three-door Niva. It only took two weeks to get into the EU.”
From this modest beginning, a business was launched. Developing an understanding of how maker Avtovaz operated was essential, Key recalls. “An order for a red and blue car would go in – and the answer would come back: ‘This month we make white. You take white’.” No options were available, either.
There was also a constant need to appreciate how political sensitivities could upset the applecart. But there was a steady stream of UK customers from all walks of life; Key was on target to bring in 90 in 2022 before the conflict began – which he says is testament to the model’s reliability. “My warranty provider has had to consider a repair once since 2010. Just one claim! The Niva is a well screwed together vehicle these days thanks to [previous majority stakeholder] Renault.”
Nevertheless there will be no more Nivas heading to Britain soon, despite Key’s efforts. “They are lovely, simple little 4x4s, and it would be sad to think I’d never bring another one in, but the world is currently as it is,” he said. “I’ve asked the Kazakhstan embassy for a supply of Kazakh-built Nivas, but they want big numbers, and the delivery route is even more challenging than previously.”
On selling that last-ever Niva Bronto, he added: “It will be bittersweet to see it go. But that sums up being a Russian car salesman quite well.”