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Azerbai—huh? An Unlikely Player Prepares To Enter Auto Game

ate posted: 06-13-2006 SHAMAKHI, GYANDZHA, Azerbaijan — This small Asian country with a population of 8 million, bordering Turkey and Iran, has expressed the ambition to become a serious player in its region's auto industry.

The Gyandzha Automobile Plant is the country's oldest manufacturing base. It was set up in the 1970s, back when Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union. Small-scale assembly of Russian UAZ off-roaders came first, and now the Chinese Lifan 520 passenger car is built there. Talks about production of Changan minivans are reportedly at an advanced stage.

There's auto production going on in Shamakhi, as well, which is about 70 miles from the capital city. There, Baku, a Turkish company best known as an electrical-appliance maker, cooperates with the biggest Iranian automobile manufacturer, Iran Khodro, on local production of the Samand. That's Iran Khodro's first independently developed model, and it is based on Peugeot technology.

Yes, the combined efforts of these two ventures will not exceed 20,000 units a year. Nevertheless, the growth of an Azerbaijan auto industry, small though it may be, is proof that no country or region can escape from the watching eye of international carmakers.

What this means to you: Watch out for Belorussia, Turkmenistan and other small Caucasus countries!
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