One area in which the Soviet era has left a very visible mark on Central Asia is its cars. There are many vehicles in Central Asia that are not often seen in the West, and I thought it would be fun to do this post. As I do not know much about cars, not much commentary.
A Lada Classic
A Lada Niva, the most basic 4WD transportation
Russian UAZ Minibus, a durable 4WD and used all over Tajikistan as public transit
Russian UAZ Jeep. We were amazed by the maneuverability of this car over impossibly rough terrain.
A few newer (non-Russian) cars, revealing recent trends in each of the Stans that we visited.
This Russian-Turkmen team in Turkmenistan was driving a new Nissan SUV from the Turkmen-Iranian to the Turkmen-Uzbek border, one step in a car import route from Dubai to Kazakhstan. All the newfound wealth in Kazakhstan (as well as Turkmenistan) must mean many new automobile imports–the trouble of going through the additional borders on this route must preferred to the additional land distance of the routes through Russia or China.
Almost all cars in Uzbekistan are Korean, the result of a partnership called Uz-Daewoo that I believe operates a factory in Uzbekistan. The small cars are all Ticos, the sedans all Nexias and the minibuses all Damases. [Korean interests have established quite an outpost in Uzbekistan–post on Korea’s footprint in Central Asia likely to come.]
While Korean economic and cultural imports into Central Asia are significant, it is China that hopes to establish itself as a dominant power in the region, along with Russia and the U.S. We’ve seen dealerships for Chinese automobiles in various countries but Tajikistan is the first country other than China in which we’ve seen a significant volume of Chinese cars on the road. Driving on the main roads of Tajikistan, one often sees huge convoys of Chinese minibuses, sometimes filled with other Chinese goods. These cars, which we were told cost as little as USD4000 in China, are driven over the Qolma Pass and the Pamir Highway into Tajikistan. We were told that the influx of these vehicles is having a very positive effect on the availability of shared transportation in the country, with people able to establish minibus businesses for themselves with relatively little capital investment. [post on Chinese exports to come]
For some reason, Kyrgyzstan has one of the highest concentrations of German cars in the world. The most common are Audis (almost every other or third car is an Audi, it seems), but there is a fair number of Benzes as well, especially considering the relative poverty of the country. It is not uncommon to see imported used cars from car-producing countries, which often incentivize people at home into changing cars frequently, but in Asia we have been more accustomed to seeing used Japanese and Korean cars. If someone knows the historical or economic reason for these German cars in Kyrgyzstan, please let me know!