Recently, plans were announced to reintroduce the Russian built Lada into Canada. Mr. Erhard Weitler, who owns the distributorship is in for a rocky future. Never mind that the car has an identity problem: It's boxlike styling, is easily spotted making it an easy target for vandals. Never mind that the previous dealer was forced out of business. These problems pale when we examine the most basic tenet of selling under capitalism Appeal.
While an increasingly number of Americans drive foreign built autos, the majority continue to "buy American" when it comes to purchasing a new car. For many, the American car symbolizes the nation. Thus, purchasing an American built auto becomes a patriotic gesture.
Thus, it was only appropriate that we find out what the Russians drive.
The Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is located three blocks north of the White House in an obscure mansion.
Seldom does one ever see the red banner with the gilded hammer and sickle flying. Neither is there an inordinate amount of secret service protection. Publicity is minimal. The only distinguishing factor that indicates that it is the embassy of an important country is the tell tell sign a large number of automobiles with diplomatic plates surrounding the building.
Several years ago the State Department decided to provide each embassy in the United States with coded license plates. The tags, which are good for three years, have a combination of letters and numbers. As many people know, the prefix FC is used by the Soviet Union. (It used to be SX but the Russians complained about civilian harrassment and it was changed.) One day we walked the stretch up 16th Street between L and M Streets. One could not help but notice the numerous cars with the FC prefix. Furthermore, it seemed that the majority of the Russians were driving American manufactured cars.
Was this a requirement of the diplomatic mission? We called Brian Barrott, at the State Department's, Office of Foreign Missions and posed the question. He told us the Russians could import any car they chose. However, in the United States they could not buy a "nonconforming car", i.e., it had to conform to all American standards. He explained that the Russians had about 200 cars registered in Washington, D.C. including several Lada's, and one Japanese car. The remainder, were all American manufactured cars.
Interesting. The Russians appeared to be choosing American cars over other imports. We decided to continue our invetigation on a closer level. One day, we conducted an exhausting survey of automobiles of Russian diplomats. It proved to be a good day must have been a meeting. A total of 52 cars were observed parked in the vicinity of the embassy on that day. This was about 25% of the registered Soviet fleet. After a good 45 minute walk, we can categorically say that Soviets love Chevys.
Chevys? Are we sure? Yes, over half of the cars parked with Soviet diplomatic tags proved to be Chevys. The Soviets seem to prefer the big models, or maybe all Chevys look big to us. Our Soviet sample preferred Malibu (24%), Celebrity (14%), and Impalas (8%). What else do they drive? Well, nearly 20 percent drive Oldsmobile and Pontiac.
One about Ladas? Only two Lada's along with the single Toyota accounted for only 6% of the total. What? You mean Russians don't drive Lada's? That's what we found. More than half those in the Soviet diplomatic corps are happily driving Chevys to work.
Color was an important factor. Most of them were driving blue Chevys, with gray and white coming in second and third respectively. Nice, respectful, sedate colors. Don't expect to find the Russians driving wildcolor cars. Beige and black, navy and silver were represented, but I didn't see any metallic bronze, kelly green, or Mary Kay pink. One would have expected the "Reds" to maybe chose red cars, but I only spotted two red cars, neither were Chevys. Maybe these were the rebel group, indeed, one of the red cars was the Lada.
The Edsel fiasco gave impetus to the market survey. Weitler may have over looked this in his decision to market Lada's. Would you purchase a car that the Russians themselves don't buy? On the other hand, we wondered if the CHEVY advertising people could use the information we had compiled.
AUTOMOBILES PARKED ON 16TH STREET ASSIGNED TO EMBASSY OF SOVIET UNION Manufacturer No. of Vehicles Total Percent Lada 2 3.85% Chrysler Corp.
Chrysler 2 3.85% Ford Motor Co.
Mercury 3 5.77% Ford 3 5.77% General Motors Chevrolet 29 55.77% Oldsmobile 5 9.62% Pontiac 5 9.62% Buick 1 1.92% Toyota 1 1.92% Total 52 100.00%