BMWs built in Russia? What could go wrong?
Russia has its own way of doing things. It always has. Despite growing globalization, Russia remains, well, Russia. Rejecting outside influences, turning the media into the enemy of the people, and an authoritarian leadership trying to pass itself off as a democracy are the norm. Needless to say, basic consumer protection and transparency laws are deliberately vague if they exist at all. And that includes those that apply to new vehicles, such as BMWs.
Although BMW Russia is the officially licensed importer for the German automaker, not all Russian-market BMWs are built in Germany. An unknown number are manufactured at Russia's own Avtotor plant in the province of Kaliningrad, where not a single German employee or BMW representative is on location to monitor build quality standards.
While BMW Russia is purchasing German-built vehicles with two-year warranties, it's also buying BMWs from the Russian factory. While these Russian-built BMWs are supposedly identical to their German-built counterparts they are sold without factory and manufacturer warranties. Both the German and Russian-built BMWs are distributed to Russian BMW dealerships as if they're the same when in fact they're not.
This story first came to light thanks to a Russian attorney named Andrey Podshivalov, who goes by the pseudo name Yardrey on social media. Yardrey describes the case of a client who bought a new Russian-built BMW 3 Series (a 320d) from the official BMW Avtodom dealership in Moscow. Not long after the purchase, the 3 Series broke down because of an engine problem on a road trip to neighboring Georgia. The car was subsequently taken to a BMW dealership in Georgia for warranty repairs, only for it to sit there for three months. The owner complained to his dealership about both the engine failure and lack of warranty service. He received no response. Then he hired Yardrey.
Yardrey discovered through court proceedings that the Kaliningrad plant's BMWs have no warranties whatsoever and that BMW Russia, the official importer, does not provide a global guarantee for these specific BMWs. Nor is it subject to liability under Russia's so-called Consumer Protection Act regarding BMW Kaliningrad cars. Even an official BMW Avtodom dealer completely disowned Kaliningrad BMWs, likely because of their poor build quality.
The good news is that the 3 Series in question was eventually repaired, likely thanks to legal efforts. However, no one knows who paid for the repairs. Was it BMW Russia? The local dealership? Today, eight months after breaking down, this 3 Series, though repaired, remains at the BMW dealership for unknown reasons. So the overall question is this: who is responsible for the quality of Kaliningrad-built BMWs? The answer is no one. Yardrey went to trial over Avtotor's lack of responsibility and lost because the court, big surprise, sided with Avtotor.
Quality issues at Avtotor are nothing new. Built in 1996, the Avtotor facility has since become one of the largest manufacturers of cars in the world. Not only does it build BMWs, but also various Chevrolet and Kia models as well. Avtotor's founders were mainly former high-ranking Soviet officials. Its first BMWs, limited to the 5 Series and 7 Series, rolled off the production line in 1999. By 2003, the E46 generation 3 Series was produced there and later its successors.
For years, there have been rumors regarding the vehicles' quality but no serious investigations were ever permitted. BMW owners have complained about engine problems, power steering, faulty exhaust systems, and numerous other build quality issues.
In the meantime, Avtotor is planning to open a new factory in 2020 that will build BMWs, Hyundais, and Kias. Total capacity is for 50,000 vehicles per year, according to the CEO of Avtotor Holding, Alexander Sorokin, via the Russian newspaper Vedomosti.