The first Chevrolet Niva has rolled off the assembly line at the new GM-AvtoVAZ joint venture plant in Togliatti, Russia.

General Motors chairman John Smith attended the opening ceremony along with senior Russian government officials in the new production plant.

Built in a state-of-the-art plant, the four-wheel-drive compact sport utility vehicle is expected to sell for around $US8,000, placing it in the largest price segment of the Russian market.

For the first full year of production, the GM-AvtoVAZ JV plans to produce 35,000 Chevrolet Nivas. By 2005, production is expected to reach 75,000 units.
The Niva will be sold in Russia from later this year, with exports to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America planned to begin in October 2003.

By the end of 2002, the plant in Togliatti will employ about 400 people. At full capacity, employment should reach 1,200 people with an estimated 600 more in contracted services. In addition, about 2,000 new jobs will be created at supplier plants.

The GM-AvtoVaz Joint Venture is a partnership between GM, AvtoVaz and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). With a total investment of $332 million, it represents one of the largest foreign investments in the automotive industry in Russia. Under the terms of the agreement, GM and AvtoVAZ each hold a 41.5% stake in the joint venture and the EBRD holds the remaining 17% share.

"This project reflects the importance we place on being in the Russian market - utilising local expertise and resources to tap the vast potential of this important growth market," Smith said.