GAZ Group has launched serial production of its previous-generation Dodge Stratus/Chrysler Sebring-based Volga Siber in a factory with capacity of up to 100,000 a year.

Earlier reports had said pilot production started last March after the car was shown at a Russian motor show the previous August. Gaz bought the assembly line from Chrysler and enlisted development help from an English company and manufacturing expertise from Magna Steyr, part of Magna International, which its parent company, Russian Machines, now part-owns.

The Siber will be sold from 1 September in 12 Russian regions through 68 dealers and is expected eventually to replace the ancient Volga sedan model.

Russian federation prime minister Vladimir Putin recently visited the plant ahead of the production start and test drove the new car.

"It takes off fast and they've increased the [ground] clearance. It will be fine for our roads," he said.

"We have launched a project which will open up a new phase in Russia's car manufacturing industry," said GAZ group chairman Sergey Zanozin at the opening ceremony. "The [group] has started to produce a new line of cars under the Volga brand on platforms from the world's leading manufacturers. The new production facility has the flexible capacity needed to bring new models into production at minimal cost and investment in the future."

The launch ceremony was attended by James Epolito, president & CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

GAZ said the automaking state had become "the second homeland for Siber as a result of a close cooperation between GAZ Group and Chrysler LLC, as the two companies work closely on the production of the car as well as with automotive components manufacturers supplying parts from Michigan".

The Siber, based on the Stratus/Sebring platform acquired from Chrysler in 2006, was updated for Russia by British studio UltraMotive.

Modifications for Russia's roads and harsh winter conditions included stiffer suspension and the increased ground clearance Putin referred to.

There have also been reports GAZ would eventually engineer a diesel engine option; the Sebring was built in the US only with petrol I4 and V6 engines.

After pilot production began last spring, test vehicles underwent trials at the GAZ group's engineering centre and specialist car magazines, and were also tried out by corporate customers and employees.

Engineers and specialists from Magna International in Canada helped install and tweak the assembly line, as well as in training GAZ employees.

The model is being launched with a base 141hp two-litre petrol engine, air conditioning, two airbags, ABS, anti-skid traction control system, halogen headlamps with delayed switch-off and height adjustment, power steering, adjustable steering wheel, six-way power driver's seat, six-speaker audio system , heated and folding electric door mirrors and a full-size spare tyre.