Queues return to Russia

Back in the days of the USSR, queues and waiting lists for almost any product were common. Since then, things have certainly improved, but it can still be difficult to get what you want, when you want it.

Moskvich was one of the most popular makes of car during Soviet times. Nikolay Isaev's first set of wheels was a Moskvich, and 20 years on it remains his favourite. These days all his children, along with his children's children, have their own cars. But back in the USSR it wasn't so easy to get on the road. 

“Every year one, two, or three cars were granted to our institute, just like apartments. The decision on who would get a car was taken by a so-called 'triangle' consisting of a director, chairman of the trade union committee, and chair of the Communist Party organisation. The three would take the waiting list and look at the names. For example, Isayev is the first on the list. They would pull up his track record and say, ”Isayev is a good guy and a good worker“ or ”That scoundrel failed to reach the planned performance figures last year! Let's kick him a couple of lines down the list.“ That's how people were judged,” Nikolay Isaev says. 

A car in the Soviet Union was seen as the ultimate in luxury. Nikolay's Moskvich cost about $US 4,000 while the average salary back then amounted to just $US 200.

Although Nikolay was a model citizen and a good worker, he still had to wait six long years to get behind the wheel.
 
The USSR is long gone, but queues and waiting lists, which were a regular feature of Soviet life, have not disappeared. And while a long wait for a luxury car is considered normal in most countries, in Russia, you have to be very patient even for a mid-range vehicle.

Nissan senior brand-manager Andrey Frolov says drivers wait for “two or three months for an ordinary middle-range but popular car”.

But it can take up to a year or more for very popular models," Frolov says.

Leonid Golovanov from Autoreview magazine says the reason is that the West was simply taken by surprise.

“Not a single Western company was prepared for the car-boom in Russia and they were not prepared to supply or to produce so many cars for our market,” Leonid says. 

Lena Rubashkina had her heart set on a new Porsche, but when told it would take a year to arrive, she decided to speed things up by buying someone else's place in the queue. 

“For $US 2,000 more I got my car three months earlier. I know it's a kind of illegal business for many but for me it was just an opportunity to receive my wheels ahead of time. Why not?” Lena asked.

An alternative is a Russian car – any type, anytime, with no queue and no need for extra payments. But for some reason, domestic motors don't have the same showroom shine as their foreign competitors.