Kremlin may swap Mercedes for Russian limos: official

Russia's leaders could ditch their Mercedes and go back to the long black Zil limousines favoured by Communist Party bosses in Soviet times, a Kremlin official said.

"As for the Zils, the president has given an order to discuss this question in detail," Kremlin property chief Vladimir Kozhin told Echo of Moscow radio on Monday evening.

"I can't rule out that in the mid-term future, we will get some new 'old' but modern Zils," Vladimir Kozhin said.

He did not give a reason but the move would renew a tradition and also fits with Russia's current policy of supporting the local car industry.

Russia's leaders currently use German cars.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ride in Mercedes cars, Kozhin said, while lower-level officials in the presidential administration use BMWs.

Zil cars are still used for ceremonial functions such as Russia's annual Victory Day parade, when the defence minister stands upright in an open-top model driving down Red Square.

A spokesman for the Zil factory in Moscow, which has scaled back production drastically since the collapse of the USSR but continues to build trucks, said Tuesday that the factory was ready to meet the order.

"We have new designs for cars. I cannot give their specifications. But Zil is always ready to work," a Zil spokesman told the RIA-Novosti state news agency.

Zil, the oldest car factory in Russia, was founded in 1916 to produce Fiat trucks but was nationalised after the Bolshevik Revolution and produced the first Soviet truck in 1924.

From 1931 to 1956, it was named after Stalin. Zil was later renamed after the factory's former director, Ivan Likhachev.

The factory made its first limousine for top officials, the ZiS-101, in 1936. From 1955, its cars were used to transport commanders during military parades, replacing horses.

The limousines were produced in extremely limited numbers only for top Soviet officials.

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