Fifteen years ago, Vladimir Putin had a problem. AvtoVAZ, maker of the favored car brand of the communist era, was the butt of jokes.
The state-owned company was struggling to cope with competition from foreign automakers that ventured into Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Despite AvtoVAZ’s troubles, when the Kremlin put a stake in AvtoVAZ up for sale in 2007, Western manufacturers lined up.
Renault prevailed over the likes of General Motors and Fiat, with Putin betting then chief Carlos Ghosn would respect the Russian identity of the company much like he had managed the proudly French and Japanese members of the world’s biggest auto alliance Renault-Nissan.