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Lada takes road back to UK sales

THE LADA, Russia's most successful car export which became the butt of many motor industry jokes, is set to stage a comeback following the sale of its UK importer, Motor Vehicle Imports, to Auto Distributors, an Australian competitor, writes Andrew Verity.

Auto Distributors, which paid an undisclosed sum to buy the Carnaby-based business in East Yorkshire from Inchcape, the British distributor, has revealed its intention to revive sales of the Russian marque in Britain.

Inchcape bought the import rights for the Lada in 1973 and the cars became fashionable in the late-1980s, when sales peaked at more than 20,000 units a year. Popular models included the Niva 4x4 and the Samara hatch, which sold in 1997 for as little as pounds 5,000. The Lada suffered a sharp drop in sales when the car fell out of fashion. And, in the summer of 1997, imports came to a juddering halt as Inchcape found it could not obtain Ladas which met new British emissions standards.

Avtovaz, the Russian manufacturer, has struggled to make right-hand drive vehicles to the new standards at a viable price. Auto Distributors will face the same obstacles, but executives are optimistic.

Graham Nicol, finance manager of Auto Distributors, said in an interview with the trade publication Motor Trader that sales could be revived. "It's an old-fashioned product, but there's nothing wrong with it and we think it could sell in the UK if the price is right."