Goodbye Lenin, hello shopping

Moscow, January 28:

Car salesman Alexei Dorofeyev is proud to belong to a club he says is getting less exclusive all the time — Russia’s middle class.

At 22, Dorofeyev, director of a Moscow auto dealership, is the new kind of Russian businessman. He deals in consumer goods, not raw materials, and eyes an annual resort holiday in Egypt or Turkey instead of the high-rolling excesses of the post-Soviet tycoons.

Dorofeyev’s dealership specialises in unglamorous, but good-value cars such as Kia, Daewoo and Renault — brands that stand out increasingly on streets long associated with the extremes of clapped-out Ladas and monster black Mercedes.

“Our clients are middle class people — people who want to stop using the metro, or who have Russian cars and want to trade up,” Dorofeyev said.

“We sell about 10 cars daily and across the city dealers sell about 1,000 every day.” Fifteen years after the Soviet collapse, Russia remains a country of economic paradoxes. The government rakes in billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues, but average monthly salaries are only 350 dollars.

According to a study published in Moscow last week, just 20-22 per cent of Russia’s adult urban population is middle class, defined as people earning more than $400 a month.

But the invasion of brightly coloured economy cars, crowds thronging French-owned Auchan hypermarkets outside Moscow, and the success of Swedish Ikea furniture stores, demonstrates that mass consumerism is taking root.

Sitting in an office decorated with a kitsch-looking Soviet poster, Dorofeyev said the boom in foreign car ownership was down to growing availability of cheap models and a surge in consumer financing.

“Even if you are earning just $600 a month, it’s realistic to buy a decent car on credit,” he said. Two years ago, 60 per cent of clients paid in cash and 40 per cent on credit, he said.