There was a comic and telling moment at the launch of Russia's new Aurus brand for upscale cars at the Moscow auto show in August. Having been introduced on stage as someone who "played a significant role" in the development of Russia's new flagship automaker, industry and trade minister Denis Manturov chided the company's CEO to push forward the development of the SUV, one of a family of four cars planned.
"I insist the prototype of the SUV should appear at the beginning of next year. This is my instruction to you. Say yes," Manturov told Aurus CEO Gerhard Hilgert.
"That’s your clear instruction? What choice do I have?" Hilgert, a former Daimler executive, replied.
The exchange was a joke, but it also revealed how close the Russian state is to the development of Aurus, which aspires to rival Bentley and Rolls-Royce not just in Russia but in Europe and the rest of the world.
Aurus is 75 percent owned by NAMI, a state-sponsored research institute, (the rest is owned by local automotive conglomerate Sollers). The aim of Aurus is to promote Russia's automotive excellence.
The big reveal of the automaker's stretched (and armored) Senat limousine came in May when President Vladimir Putin used it to travel to his inauguration. The inclusion of the Senat in the Kremlin's so-called "Garage of Special Purpose," the government fleet of VIP cars that in Soviet times included the iconic ZiL limousines, was a clear indication that Aurus cars were of the highest quality, Hilgert claimed at the launch. "The special purpose garage always uses the best vehicles. Aurus will have a firm position in this club of legendary cars," he said.