Blog: Simon WarburtonRespected passenger comrades

Simon Warburton | 11 April 2013

First day proper of the Russian Automotive Forum (RAF) in Moscow and we started bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first thing with a series of presentations by Russian government officials from Kaluga, Sverdlovsk and the Duma Parliament in Moscow.

The traffic in the Russian capital was a hot topic of conversation among the delegates during tea before the conference started and despite swapping tales of nightmare taxi journeys there is one extraordinary aspect of the Russian capital that merits praise.

There are almost no potholes. I can't quite believe it myself but having tramped around a fair bit of the city, it's true. It's even more unbelievable that for a capital city, Moscow must endure one of the harshest climates there is, but I hardly saw a single pothole.

Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev's dramatic call for the great and the good of the Russian auto business to high-tail it to Nizhny Novgorod - home to GAZ Group 250 miles east of Moscow - meant a hasty redrawing of the speaker schedule - but the replacements were of very good quality and demonstrated some fancy footwork in stepping in at the last minute.

Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher's death yesterday has led to saturation coverage on all the TVs on in the World Trade Centre where the RAF is taking place - Russians asked me if I had heard the news and the fact Muscovites are talking about a politician who stepped down more than 20 years ago, shows the sheer power of her ideas and influence, whether you agree with her or not.

Ford Sollers CEO, Ted Cannis took to the stage, followed by Royal Air Force pilot and World Land Speed Record holder, Andy Green, for a presentation on his Bulldog project which aims to see him travel at er, 1,000mph on the ground.

I also had a one-to-one with General Motors director, supply chain and purchasing , Peter Layer and Jean-Christophe Marchal, general manager of PCMA, the Russian collaboration between PSA (70%) and Mitsubishi (30%) in Russia.

Sberbank organised a cocktail reception - replete with the chance to win a diamond - I didn't to add to my proud list of almost never having won anything - and it was a terrific chance to network.

The RAF had set up tall tables - just as CLEPA does in Brussels - and it makes for extremely good opportunities to chat in a hospitable atmosphere where folk can move around easily.

I'm at Domodedovo Airport now on the outskirts of Moscow and there's a roll-call of 'Stan' airlines being announced: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, all to exotic-sounding destinations such as Osh, Bishkek and Tashkent.

I'm off to the slightly more prosaically named Munich - nonetheless a fascinating city in itself and then back to Birmingham.

Aeroflot apparently used to address its customers as:"Respected Passenger Comrades." I shouldn't think Lufthansa will do the same but I rather like the old way of calling people by a collective - it feels well - more Russian.


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