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Medvedev Wants Russian-Made Limousine

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov standing in a ZiL during this year's Victory Day parade on May 9. Igor Tabakov

President Dmitry Medvedev wants to swap his Mercedes Benz for a Russian-made car and has ordered his administration to examine the possibility of renewing the production of limousines at legendary Soviet carmaker ZiL.

"There is a presidential order to explore this. … We are currently discussing this with factories, and I do not exclude that in the medium term we will again see old but modern ZiLs," Vladimir Kozhin, head of the Presidential Property Department, said on Ekho Moskvy radio late Monday.

Despite the government's frantic efforts to save the country's ailing car industry, Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — like much of the country's political elite — use German-made limousines when being chauffeured to work. ? 

Even Mayor Yury Luzhkov, a staunch defender of the domestic car industry, gave up his Moskvich in 2001 in favor of an Audi.

Kozhin said the Federal Guards Service, which ferries Russia's leaders and visiting dignitaries, bought Mercedes cars, while his agency only worked with BMWs.

He said the Russian-made cars sought by Medvedev need not be built by ZiL itself. "We are looking at a range of factories that can offer what we need," he said.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he would welcome the return of the Russian limousine. "If such cars are built, we will gladly use them," Peskov told The Moscow Times.

Established in 1916, ZiL is Russia's oldest carmaker, but little is left of its former glory. In 2005, it sold its main plant to pay off debt. The location near the Avtozavodskaya metro station has since been converted into a giant shopping mall.

ZiL continues to produce trucks, but annual production plummeted from 4,500 in 2008 to 2,200 last year, said Ivan Bonchev, an analyst with Ernst & Young.

The huge gas-guzzling limousines, originally inspired by U.S. Packard models, were used by Kremlin leaders from Stalin to Gorbachev.

The last model, featuring a 7.7 liter V-8 engine and weighing up to 3.5 tons, is still featured on the company's web site, but only a handful are said to have been built since 1991.

ZiLs made a reappearance at the May 9 Victory Day parade on Red Square when Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and one of his commanders greeted troops standing in open versions of the limousine.

The cars used at the parade had been specially assembled, Serdyukov told Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Bonchev said that if that was the path for reviving ZiL limousines, it would be very costly. "In principle, everything can be built, but this looks more like a Rolls Royce — built entirely by hand," he said.

ZiL said Tuesday that the company was ready to build new limousines. "We are always ready for new work," a spokesman told RIA-Novosti.

But he added that restarting production depended entirely on the amount of investment and on who provided financing.

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