MOSCOW - General Motors and AvtoVAZ, maker of Lada cars, hope to conclude their negotiations over a joint venture by 1 April.
'They are down to decisions on points of substance, and we are into the final stages,' said GM project leader Heidi McCormack.
AvtoVAZ Chairman Vladimir Kadannikov said, 'I believe there is an 80 to 90 percent chance for an agreement.'
McCormack would not offer an opinion about the chance for final approval. She is director of finance and project development for Russia and other former Soviet states.
Earlier this year GM, AvtoVAZ and Valmet announced their intention to build a small greenfield plant in Russia at Vyborg, on the border with Finland. That announcement included a vision of a larger plant at a later date.
The deal currently under discussion has less input from Valmet, a Finnish automaker that assembles cars for Lada, Porsche and Saab.
Talks now focus on a greenfield factory nearer AvtoVAZ's huge complex in Togliatti. AvtoVAZ said it built 740,000 vehicles there in 1997, 9.4 percent more than 1996.
'Valmet has enough problems producing cars in Finland,' said Kadannikov in an interview with Automotive News Europe. 'They have limited capacity to be an important partner in an agreement to produce Opel cars in Russia.'
Kadannikov said the new factory of 50,000 capacity would make a version of the Opel Astra or Vectra. 'We have not yet decided if the car will be named an Opel or a Lada,' he said.
A second stage would involve full-scale production of several hundred thousand cars a year, he said, and the third stage would be an engine plant making 300,000 units a year.
Kadannikov said the main difficulty with concluding a deal is determining how AvtoVAZ will come up with its share of the investment. He said he was optimistic.
'We are very impressed with our Russian negotiating partners,' said GM's McCormack. 'They are very professional and know very well their strong and weak points.'