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The whole import thing insight

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Joined: 07 Jul 2009
Posts: 262
Location: Guelph, Ontario

PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:16 pm Post subject: The whole import thing insight Reply with quote

For some time now I've been thinking about the article, which would describe my 7 years of experience of... connecting people with cars, or how I like to treat it: assisting Soviet cars to immigrate and live "a spoiled life" (credit goes to Sparky). Personal insight, personal opinion - nothing else.
In December 2011 I shipped the first car ever, and that was Graham's 21063. I met him here on the forum, and his story is posted here since that time, a very useful piece of information. I obviously did not pioneer Soviet car import to the USA, but definitely was at its beginnings. Being excited with my first experience, and looking for expansion of my "useful hobby" as I put it, I tried to get a hold of every dealership in the USA that had some sort of ties to Russia or former Soviet Union, be it an owner-immigrant from the USSR, or a fact that a dealership already sells something Russian - Ural motorcycles, for example, or anything like that. Out of hundreds of emails that I sent, only one(!) came with a response to my "spam", and that was Dmitry from Alpha Cars. He was both - born in the USSR and a Ural dealer - a perfect match. This was in the summer of 2012. He said that the idea is interesting, but commercially not viable. We continued our communication on and off until December 2014, when I first visited Alpha Cars, and he ordered the first container from me. He asked my suggestions about prices, and since my dream was to make these cars affordable and make Alpha Cars a go-to place for Soviet steel, I responded with very reasonable prices. Long story short - he prepaid three cars (Lada 2101, Moskvich Izh Combi, and a Volga GAZ 24-10), and a container was sent, but as soon as the cars were advertised, the prices were almost double of what I told him. Later they increased even more, and now they are what they are. I was not disappointed by the fact that my recommendations about prices were sent down the drain, after all he is a dealer with an "expensive place" kind of image. I was disappointed by the fact that immediately after this first container, Alpha Cars continued importing Soviet cars through a different person in Moscow. "Thanks for the idea, bro!" No, I did not hear that either:) Btw, I offered Alpha Cars to import Soviet motorbikes as well, which was considered a supercounterproductivestupididea at a time, but... watch the bikes coming! I could bet a $100:)
Anyhow, I remembered that Volga 24-10 that I shipped to Alpha Cars, and when I spotted it online by chance at a different dealership called Motorland in Maine, I emailed them saying that I know the car, and we agreed to have a meeting, because Motorland wanted a bunch of Soviet cars, and I logically thought - a personal meeting is always good. So, I went there (600+ miles one way) over a weekend, met Tim and his spouse Tom, we had a great conversation, on my way back home I got an email from Tim saying that it was nice to meet you, bla-bla-bla, let's get in touch in a couple of days about the process. And that was it. Haven't heard from them ever since, my emails and phone calls were never returned. If anyone else wants to try his/her luck (and also time/money/efforts) - you got the info, they want cars... apparently:)
There are various places offering Soviet cars in US: amateur clubs, private individuals, and even dealerships. Most dealers sell consigned cars (i.e. they did not import them, they are selling them on someone's behalf), or some garages sell imported cars that are once again, registered to private individuals - both cases mean that you are buying essentially from a private seller, but for a higher price. Then there are (to date, and according to my knowledge) only 2 dealerships in the entire US that sell Soviet cars that are titled to those dealerships, and only one of these two actually imports these cars.
My experience with dealerships taught me two things: 1. my useful hobby gotta stay as such, i.e. once a year during my trip to Russia I can help import a car to whoever is interested, and 2. dealing with private individuals can be challenging, but at the end of the day all three parties (a car, its new owner, and me:) are all satisfied. I still dream of a dealership, I would have opened one if I was living in the USA. To date, there is not a single one in such a huge country that would be selling East European vehicles at a decent price and get revenue by volume instead of outrageously overcharging customers.
To wrap it up - a little about prices, obvious stuff. Yes, some people are itchy dealing with some Internet guy (i.e. myself), but I always say that a). $3-4K is simply not enough for me to run to Mexico, my reputation costs more:) and b). if one is willing to pay double or triple (and I'm not exaggerating a single bit) - then welcome to the dealer. Using that same Volga 24-10 as an example, its price tripled since it arrived to US. Because of that, it never had a real owner since 2015, and if someone will ever buy it from its current location at Motorland, (s)he will overpay triple. Exactly the same quality car costs 3 times less, even being delivered to the US.
This Volga episode reminds me Russia of the 90s. I was a teenager and wanted to buy jeans from the mall, but my parents told me to buy them at a local street market, because jeans were coming from the same location in Turkey. Mall rent is higher, and the goods are priced higher. Same goes about USSR cars. If one believes in some special quality/selection/pre-selection of dealership cars - let them believe so, but the reality is - these cars originate from the same location, and in many instances are selected by the same people. Those who imported cars into US with my assistance and had to register their cars themselves, would 101% agree that paying double or triple just to get the car with a US title is simply not worth it. Everyone understands that. Some just decide not to buy this Lada toy after being scared with dealer prices or freaky thoughts of dealing with purchasing abroad. Yet I'm encouraging you to do it. Use my help, use others like me. Make this forum alive again, like in 2011, make Ladas deserve Classic car status in North America!
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Joined: 22 Jan 2018
Posts: 13
Location: Seattle, WA

PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2018 11:55 pm Post subject: Reply with quote

Really, I don't know if this is the right political climate for trying to sell Russian cars in the US Laughing
It's always tough breaking new ground and very few people in the US have ever seen a Lada and only a few of those are going to find them 'attractive' in their quirky way. Some Canadians may have passed one on the highway at one point, but even when the dealerships were around, they didn't sell a lot of cars. When people did buy a Lada, it was primarily because they were really cheap. If Canada had an aftermarket supply of off-road outfitters for the Niva or people turning the Rivas into rwd drift cars back in the day, there would likely be a lot more people with nostalgia for them.
I hope your trip goes well for us. Maybe Lada would be interested in sponsoring/hiring you as a brand-diplomat? There are rumors they may return to Canada in 2019.
Looking for another Lada Niva - future project
'78 Fiat Spider 124 - current project
'90 Lada Cossack (2121) - past
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Joined: 07 Jul 2009
Posts: 262
Location: Guelph, Ontario

PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2018 8:49 pm Post subject: Reply with quote

I thought about the climate - indeed. But on the other hand - when was it ever normal?Smile I remember seeing pictures online of some gas stations boycotting fueling Ladas (times of Afghan war) when they were imported into Canada. However, even now I assume some business relations do exist between USA and Russia because in modern world it is costly to refuse cooperation just because of politicians' decisions. Luckily they don't touch private individuals imports for now. When I was importing my 2106 into Canada, I even emailed Canada Border Services asking if I'll be fine importing it.
Not too many Americans are aware of Ladas, that's true. And even fewer of them think that Ladas are any good. In fact they are as good as any other car that was designed in 1970s. The factory did not modify them unfortunately for years, then the crash of USSR, no money, and then the market opened up for foreign brands. Ladas remained somewhat primitive. I like the fact that they are without electronics. Nowadays the cars are filled with all these ESPs, ABSs, etc. that a driver does not learn to drive really, does not know what to expect of a car in bad weather and road conditions, how RWD behaves, what you can do on FWD, etc.
About aftermarket parts for Ladas: I once found an ex-dealer in Mississauga, great guy, I bought some stuff off him, particularly "racing steering wheels" - black metal and leather, made in Italy. He told me they were on that wall for decades before I bought them. The reason - price. Like you said, people bought Ladas only because they were cheap. That steering wheel was $200 back in the day, while a whole car was $5K - no wonder:)
Rumours about Lada returning to Canada arise every year, mostly around April 1 though:) My take on that is (let's dream for a sec here): even if Lada was to return to North America with their Nissan-shaped vehicles that totally lost their individuality, I would not be interested in joining them. I want to do what I love, and to me Ladas were over in 2012 when they stopped producing RWD vehicles (2107 being the last one). I realize - new market, ever-changing world, etc. but another reality of this modern world auto market is - if there was a limited production of RWD Ladas, or Volgas (that aren't produced since 2009, if I'm not mistaken), or even ZAZ - even if these cars were following Fiat 500 or Mini Cooper way, i.e. same outside - new inside - they would sell like crazy, right away.
I did not expect I'd write that much:)
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