Back in 2015, General Motors made what’s now become characterized as a short-sighted move by pulling its Chevrolet and Opel brands out of Russia‘s mainstream vehicle segments. In doing so, GM surrendered one of the BRIC markets to the likes of Kia, Hyundai, Nissan and Renault, which have come to eat up the market share previously held by The General. And now, it’s taking another rather disappointing step by suspending work on a planned replacement to the Chevrolet Niva.
The Niva is a legendary nameplate in Russia dating nearly five decades. More on that in just a bit.
The current Chevrolet Niva represents a very substantial update to that first-generation Lada Niva 4×4, which was fully developed by Russian automaker VAZ (since renamed to AvtoVAZ) in the 1970s.
The Russian-built small SUV has true legendary off-road prowess and durability, capable of starting up in cold weathers and tackling the rugged tundra terrain.
The Chevrolet Niva also happens to be the last-remaining Russian-built vehicle with any GM involvement.
The Joint Venture
The Chevrolet Niva is the product of GM-AvtoVAZ – a joint venture between GM and AvtoVAZ at the latter’s factory in the Russian city of Togliatti, the country’s principal hub for auto development and production.
The partnership is the result of aligned business opportunities: at the turn of the century, GM was looking to establish itself in Russia, while AvtoVAZ needed some financial backing. GM-AvtoVAZ was created in 2001, and the original Lada Niva 4×4 was substantially updated to create the Chevrolet Niva on sale today.
The joint venture was a rather straightforward relationship until French automaker Renault managed to shoehorn itself into AvtoVAZ and become its primary owner.
According to Nicolas Maure, current chairman of GM-AvtoVAZ and chairman of the Renault Group in the Eurasia region, Renault-owned AvtoVAZ is the financial partner and contract manufacturer for the Chevrolet Niva, while GM is responsible for the engineering.
The Niva Replacement
The current Chevrolet Niva was launched in 2002. A replacement was previewed at the 2014 Moscow auto show. After being awarded all kinds of awards for design, a launch was planned for 2016, but had an on-again, off-again nature. But now it has been axed completely.
“Works within the new-generation Niva project are suspended due to several objective reasons,” GM-AvtoVAZ said in a statement.
Those “objective reasons” were not listed nor explained.
A Focus On The Current Model
Maure declined to comment why development of the next-gen model was cancelled, but did offer the following words: “The company is profitable so there’s no urgency to replace it.”
It would seem as if GM-AvtoVAZ will instead refocus on continuing to develop the existing model instead.
“We are constantly working on improving the quality and performance of the vehicle to keep customers’ interest in our product,” a spokeswoman for the automaker said.
As GM pulled out of Russia (and, subsequently, various other global markets including Europe, South Africa, Indonesia, and India), the Chevrolet Niva remained in Russia. The vehicle is sold at roughly 100 stand-alone dealerships around the country.
The Niva enjoys some popularity, accounting for 18,456 registrations in the first eight months of 2018, making it Russia’s 19th best-selling model during the time frame.
Long-Standing Niva Heritage
The Niva name carries significant levels of heritage and legacy in Russia, with the most similar example being the Jeep Wrangler in the United States.
Originally a product of Lada, a Russian auto brand created by AvtoVAZ, the Niva was launched in 1977 as the Lada Niva 4×4. It was the first mass-produced off-road vehicle to feature a unibody architecture and an independent front suspension with coil springs.
After the introduction of the Chevrolet Niva by the GM-AvtoVAZ joint venture, the original Lada Niva 4×4 – which is still in production – was rebranded to the Lada 4×4 in Russia, while carrying the Niva name in export markets.
Lada and AvtoVAZ are planning to develop a replacement for the 4×4, having recently released a concept car that previous the vehicle. Rumor has it that they would like to use the Niva name for that vehicle and to buy it back from the GM-AvtoVAZ joint venture.
“If there is an opportunity to buy it back, it would make sense. It still has a strong brand image, not only in Russia but also abroad. It’s a question of price,” Maure was quoted as saying in reference to Lada using the Niva name.
He also stated that the replacement for the original, 1977-era Niva would not continue using the 4×4 name, essentially confirming that there is a good chance that the Chevrolet Niva will be renamed in the near- to medium-term future.