Ukraine Test Drive: Zaporozhets versus Aston Martin Vantage S

Ukraine Test Drive: Zaporozhets versus Aston Martin Vantage S

February 3, 2011

Driving through the nondescript industrial city of Zaporizhia, situated on the Dnipro River, that is famous for the production of the Zaporozhets motorcar— a sort of Soviet Beetle and the cheapest car they produced — I was reminded of a Ukrainian friend whose boyfriend owned one of the vehicles.

“My mother was insistent I should marry him on account of his politeness,” she recounted to me. “He always opened the car door for me. What my mother didn’t realise was that the workmanship was so poor; he was the only one who could do it! In all other things, he was a real rascal.”

The company started life in 1908 as a producer of combine harvesters and quickly became the largest in the world. But by the late 1950’s the production shifted to the relatively new market of motor cars, and in particular the small car. The Zaporozhets quickly became the dream of many Soviet men.

Nowadays, it is an everyday sight to see the pre-1994 Malysh (meaning ‘little one’), with its air-cooled 746cc V4 engine, trundling along the highways of Ukraine. The factory continues to operate and manufactures more than 100,000 cars per year.

In contrast, I read with interest last week that Aston Martin has officially opened the doors to its first dealership in Ukraine, in Kyiv. Eager customers can wait in line to order the latest V8 Vantage S, powered by a 4,700cc V8 engine. Though the dealership won’t discuss the price over the telephone – which made me think, “If I need to ask, I shouldn’t be asking” – the price in the UK is approximately £105,000 for the standard Coupe version.

Out of curiosity I made a comparison.

Now, all things being equal you would expect Aston Martin to operate in those countries where the richest customers live. Including Ukraine, they now operate in 41 countries worldwide. But, Ukraine ranks 135th in the world in GNI per capita (gross national income per capita).*

Taking it a step further, if we compare the GNI of the UK versus that of Ukraine, the Vantage S Coupe costs only 4 times the average annual income in the UK versus 43 times in Ukraine. By comparing disposable income the gap is considerably wider.

The reason, of course, is income inequality. And for those interested in learning more about this fascinating country, you can do no better than to read the chapter “Steamy Business” in my book Among the Ukrainians, where I make the case that Ukraine has more billionaires than Russia, and is second only to the USA.

Well, after an exhaustive comparison of the two cars, on paper at least, I think the Aston Martin is the better car. The Malysh has the disadvantage of coming in only a limited number of colours, but on Ukraine’s decrepit roads it should outlast the Aston Martin. Um? More thought necessary, I think…

*2009 Report, World Development Indicators database, World Bank, 15 December 2010

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