This very well made film is very interesting because it shows how the Russians started a major industrial manufacturing project from scratch, and built it up over several years, much of it in great secrecy because it involved creating a domestic limousine for Russia's leaders.
Revealing insight into contemporary Russian manufacturing conditions. Full transcript of the 30 minute film follows below.
– It's strong, it's invincible, but at the same time it's kind.
– It's very easy to drive. It's responsive to acceleration and braking.
– Could you say that it's the safest car available today?
– I think so.
– So it could be stamped with Cleared by Federal Protective Service?
– Yes, it could.
The official state car. Every country with a car industry has one. In France, it's Citroën. In Germany, it's traditionally Mercedes, even though Angela Merkel prefers Audi. The current president of the US travels in Cadillac nicknamed The Beast. In Japan, all political establishment traditionally commutes in Nissan. This is not just a top-level publicity for the brand, this is a matter of national pride.
Yuri Chernenko, Head of Design at NAMI: "The idea of a car for the country's leader has always existed. Every auto manufacturers, every engineer wants to create this, because it's a top level, it's prestigious, it's beautiful and it's limitless.”
Legends around this project started popping up just as it was announced back in 2013. By the way, Kortezh is not the official name. It was invented by journalists. And indeed, no other car has attracted so much attention before its official premiere.
Igor Pospelov, Deputy Director of Security at NAMI: "Many people showed interest in it, from regular citizens to popular bloggers and news outlets. Everyone".
Every news story even remotely connected to this Russian project would spread like wildfire in the media. It was truly a hunt for a scoop.
Igor Pospelov: We've received inquiries from fake emails, like from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, asking for a report on the car with photos and everything. There were also brazen attempts to bribe our employees through social networks in exchange for them providing photos.
The job of designing and building the official state car was given to NAMI, the Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engines Institute which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The first question the designers had to answer was what this car should look like. There were a lot of different suggestions, from ultra modern and futuristic models to the timeless classics.
– This is one of the first sketches, showing the car in a classic look. As the foundation for the style development, we chose…
– Judging from these stripes, it was ZIS-110.
– Yes. We chose ZIS-110 because if you have a close look at Russian and Soviet car history, you see that ZIS-110 was the first Soviet car that in terms of style and structure was designed specifically for country leaders.
– But stylistically it was also based on American Packard?
– Sure. And American culture had a huge influence here. Many people compare it to Packard, but if you look inside a Packard, you'll find striking differences.
All Aurus cars are united into a single concept. The model range was inspired by the Kremlin towers. The limousine and sedan are Senat. The minivan is Arsenal. There's also Komendant, the future SUV.
The first impression — Aurus looks noble. Not flashy, not extravagant, but indeed noble. Actually, the car's exterior even shows some ascetic elements, like the taillights. In my view, the designers have accomplished the difficult task of creating an elegant, yet seemingly simple product. The Aurus cars are notable not only for their outer similarity.
The project is actually called EMP which stands for Unified Modular Platform. For the future production on a larger scale, the unification principle where the same components are used across the entire range is a must. Such is the reality of the global automotive industry.
Vadim Pereverzev, Chief Designer at Project EMP: It allows a reduction in time spent on developing the car, as well as the cost of manufacturing and the parts chain.
– Cost of the end product?
– Yes. That's the direction we chose. And since our goal wasn't just to create a single car, but rather a range of models, we started to build a unified modular platform which allowed us to build this model range based on standardized components.
Vadim Pereverzev, the chief designer at the United Modular Platform Project. His story is a good example of reverse brain drain. He used to work in the same position at one of the car companies in Italy. The sea, the sun, the euro.
– Why did you come back?
– I believe that this kind of project is worth coming back, not to mention that people should live in their home country.
– Where is it more interesting to work, in Italy or here?
– Here of course, because the project is very unusual, ambitious and challenging.
While the Aurus limo, for obvious reasons, won't go into mass production, remaining an exclusive product, the sedan will. Compared to the limo, it's one meter shorter, which also makes shorter its wheelbase. In its first design, the car looked much more like the legendary ZIS-110. That's what we heard at the test range from Denis Manturov, Minister of Industry and Trade, who was put in charge of creating this car from the first day of the project.
Denis Manturov, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade: "The trunk was very sleek, basically a copy of the one on ZIS. But when we started doing aerodynamic testing, it had to go, because it was pulling up the rear part of the car. So what we see today is the aerodynamic solution found through a lot of pain and hard work".
– The question is can I give it a try?
– You can.
– You're driving.
– All right, let's go.
– Shall we?
– Denis Valentinovich, if it's not a secret, what was your first car?
– My first car was VAZ-2104.
– That's a station wagon, right?
Back in 1987, 18-year-old Denis Manturov, who had just fixed his father's 2104, could hardly imagine that a quarter-century later the ministry whose head he would become would be charged with changing the face of Russian car industry through creating something that our country never had before, with the exception of maybe GAZ Chaika and ZIL.
Even in 2013, there was no end to the criticism of the project that hadn't even started yet.
"I'm sorry, so you want to say that here in Russia, using Russian parts, you can create a high-end car?! We don't have the technology! It has to be state-of-the-art, whether it's electronics, metalwork, finish or anything else. Where are you gonna get high-quality materials? Leather, glass, plastic… Who's gonna assemble it? Russians, really?"
Denis Manturov: "Many people asked me where we got the experts. It wasn't only those people who had been working at our automotive facilities and making their career at NAMI. We've also brought in guys who had worked for 10-15 years in the leading companies around the world. And this process of Russian professionals coming back shows again that these experts believed in this project and believed in those ambitious goals that, in the end, we made come true".
– Was it possible 10 years ago to build such a car?
– No. In all honesty, if you ask me, I'll say no.
– You know, all in good time. First, we had to build a certain level of experience and competence. Now we have it.
The international experience was, of course, crucial. And it would be stupid not to use the cutting-edge tech of the automotive world. No one even tried to hide the fact that the engine design and tuning required the experience of engineers from German Porsche. Still, all of the technology were developed in-house.
The engine itself is a 600hp, 4.4 liter, twin-turbo, V8. Let's not forget that it's hybrid. There's also an electric motor that produces up to 122 horsepowers. And these specifications dictate probably the most prominent part of the exterior, this massive radiator grille. There are also two air intakes on both sides. Well, a big engine needs a lot of air.
For now, the engine is the same across the entire Aurus range. In the future, the heavy, armored limo will get a new, more powerful one, 6.6 liters, V12, 800 horsepowers, and also hybrid, with an electric motor.
To build our own engine, among other things, we had to learn how to properly cast its parts. That wasn't so easy. Who should be the contractor? To this day, many companies use the services of foreign companies because our country is not doing so good with casting. NAMI decided to master the casting themselves. In this cast shop, you can't see the usual spark showers or flows of glowing metal. The processes here go unnoticed or rather hidden from the eye. It all starts with 3D technologies like on any modern production.
Vyacheslav Dovbysh, Director of Center of Technologies at NAMI:
– This is a sand mold with the binder. It's regular sand.
– It's very soft.
– Yes, it's calibrated, well-dried.
This sand is used to make molds, just like it was done in ancient times, only in the 21st century this is a job for a 3D printer. It helps to save the most crucial thing—time.
Vyacheslav Dovbysh: "For example, if it's a very complex cast like a cylinder block or something like that, the first trial cast is done in two weeks. As recently as 5-6 years ago, it could take up to 6 months".
These molds are filled with liquid aluminum under pressure and against gravity— from the bottom up. Because of this, the metal is more homogeneous than what you get with normal, atmospheric casting, from the top down. It's a huge increase in quality.
– What do we have here?
Vyacheslav Dovbysh: It's the housing of the electric motor. At certain moments, the electric motor helps the engine to accelerate faster. It also serves as a generator for the abundant electronics on board. So in our project, we use a hybrid system.
After this, the metal will be several times scanned, checked for physicomechanical properties, such as hardness, and then go to further processing. Next follows the most precise check on the micron scale. Some details will be checked again and again, even with the MRI. Everything in engines has to be flawless.
Up until recently, the only gasoline engines developed in our country by domestic experts date back to the 80's. Everything after that was only improvements. So was there a point in trying to get by without international best practices? Not really. But this time the goal was to master the technologies, rather than copy them.
Aleksey Terenchenko, Director of Power Systems Center at NAMI: Of course, it's easy to build an engine from components manufactured in Germany, in Europe. They have everything ready. We know that. It's an easy way that was sadly chosen by many of our engine manufacturers.
– And then they complain that we have the parts, but not the technologies.
– Here we had a different goal. To invest as much as possible in the local manufacturers, to help them with technologies, to help them with construction, to help them with engineers, to develop their competencies, okay? Not just to give them something and make them build it, but to allow them to adjust it to the technologies they have while closing the gap in the quality level required for top engines, top cars. That's the goal we set for ourselves, and I believe we're achieving it.
– You set this goal for the country's economy, too, right?
This healthy and productive request, "Give us a unique Russian product" was directed not only at engine manufacturers. And many received such a request for the first time in 30 years— not just put the brand "Made in Russia" on the international level, but make it even better and more reliable.
Folk wisdom, "Don't judge others by how they look" is not exclusively Russian. The same rule is followed by fashion trendsetters, the Italians and French, not to mention the extremely practical Germans who make a small but very important caveat. They say, it's not the person's clothes that matters, it's his shoes. This western piece of wisdom just wasn't working for Russian automotive industry. You'd ask, how come? In the Soviet times, we produced our own good tires. Take, for example, Kama. This tire-producing factory has been operating since 1973. It was the biggest one in the USSR, with 12 billion tires produced annually. VAZ, KAMAZ—almost everyone was getting their tires here.
Aleksander Makhotin, CEO of KAMA Center of R&D: "Then came 1991-92. World brands, such as Michelin, Continental, Pirelli have entered our market. Russia saw an influx of cars that weren't present in the Soviet Union. We weren't producing that kind of tires".
Back then, the industry was expected to die. "It's not competitive. You will never catch up with international brands. Don't even try." At the end of the 90's, it sounded like a verdict. The year 2018, the same factory.
Aleksander Makhotin: Here's a tire that no one else in the world can produce.
– No one? Only you?
– No one. Only us.
This is one of those tires that carry the 7-ton presidential limo. It's the reason why we came to Tatarstan, to the Nizhnekamsk Tire Factory, with a simple question.
– There are dozens of worldwide known brands that produce tires. Why you?
Aleksander Makhotin: First of all, it's a unique car. The tire requirements are also unique. When we were agreeing to this, we knew that there were no comparable tires. So we had to do everything ourselves.
What are these requirements that no other tire in the world can satisfy? Let's have a look. Every tire has a very important characteristic, the load index. For light vehicles, it ranges from 60 to 125. That's from 250 to 1,650 kilograms. So the maximum load that can be carried by 4 strongest tires is 6.5 tons. Anything more than that requires truck tires. But while having a big load index, they also have a low speed rating. As a result, the tires are either strong or fast. Were there no attempts to make something in between? There were. But they failed. Until Russian professionals got down to work. Apparently, there wasn't anything even similar. They had to invent and build everything themselves.
– What we achieved is a symbiosis. On one hand, it's a passenger-car tire, on the other hand, it's a truck tire.
Valeriy Kudryavtsev, Chief Designer at KAMA Center of R&D: "For certification, we nominated it as a C3 tire, a truck tire meant for trucks and buses. That's on one hand. On the other hand, it has all the properties of a passenger-car tire, like high maximum speed, high responsiveness which means a quick response to steering, as well as high stability on the straights and during corners".
The key secret to its durability is not easy to see. It's hidden inside the complex multi-layer structure of the tire. This is not a weaving mill as you might have thought. Instead of yarn, these spools carry this metal cord. A wire basically. The answer to the main question, "Why Russian-made tires?" Any other tire, without such an intricate weave, would just blow out. The tests have shown it many times. Here, tires are subjected to extreme testing. They get loaded, accelerated, heated and worn without mercy, much harder than it happens on the road.
Maria Ivanikhina, Head of Testing Laboratory: In a chosen mode, we imitate the behavior of the tire on the road, checking its performance.
– Like the way it turns?
– Or how it responds to braking?
– We can check everything, yes. The main goal is to understand its limits.
– To blow it up?
– To destroy.
Destroying the tire reinforced with a metal cord is not easy. The final parameters go like this. Maximum tire load is 1900 kg, maximum speed is 190 km/h which can be pushed up to 210, as proven by tests.
Aleksander Makhotin: "I believe this tire will give us a push forward. It won't just end here, it won't be a tire just for this car. It will probably give Russia a new impetus. We can offer absolutely unique properties. I can say that right now this tire allows to save around 15% of fuel".
Still, for a typical owner of such a car, saving fuel is not the most important factor. Much closer attention will be paid to other things, like the quality of the interior materials, and the judgment will be even more harsh than that of the Minister of Industry and Trade.
Denis Manturov: "I can tell you this. While working on the interior elements, we were building on the feedback provided to us by potential clients. We conducted customer research, and not just one, but three times, at different stages. It went something like this. We invited owners of expensive high-end cars, such as Mercedes, Maybach, Bentley, Rolls-Royce. We equipped a special place and asked the respondents to look at the cars they already know and compare them to our car".
What elements inside create the feeling of an exclusive product? It's leather and plastic. Feels nice. NAMI is developing its own original plastic which is then vigorously tested. Together with the chassis, it's exposed to more than a hundred thousand kilometers of driving in a test car. In a premium car, there's no place for squeaking, rattling and other unwanted noises.
Vyacheslav Dovbysh: "Our project, among other things, means designing an exclusive car, and of course, an exclusive car has to be built from exclusive materials".
The materials that have been developed, manufactured and tested here will later go into mass production, and not only for this car. So we are also improving the quality of plastic in the domestic car industry? Cool.
Still, it's not the plastic that makes a car executive. It's leather. Or rather the way it's prepared. You can recognize good leather with your hands. What's interesting is that up until recently, for automotive and aviation industry this material was manufactured anywhere but in Russia, even though we've long had enterprises that manufacture absolutely top-notch products.
This factory near Ryazan has marked its 100th birthday in 2016, but its history began even earlier. Before 1916, it was located in Riga. It was evacuated here during the First World War. At the end of the 20th century, it almost collapsed, just like the Nizhnekamsk Tire Factory. But now it's the biggest in Russia and one of the biggest in the world productions of high-quality leather.
Andrey Nizov, CEO of Russian Leather: This is our own patented leather, that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
– That's really great.
Yet up until recently this place wasn't producing automotive leather. Apparently, there was a lot of resistance to them entering this market. Project Aurus gave a jumpstart to the production of both automotive and aviation leather here.
Andrey Nizov: This is where the elements are being cut out. As you see, the computer software allows to position the pieces in such a way that we reduce the waste of this expensive material.
– These are the patterns?
– Yes. They are aligned with the piece of leather, and then the machine cuts them to make the elements needed to sew the end product.
The creation of such high-quality material takes up to 4 weeks. First, those hides are carefully selected that have a large surface and no defects. Then follows a long stage of processing. Before ending up on the cutting table, the raw material will go through several stages of soaking, liming, fleshing, tanning, dyeing, stuffing, drying and finishing. After all that, a lot of effort will be put into trying to ruin the final samples. The automotive leather has to be more than just soft and nice to touch.
Aleksander Kondrashov, Technologist: "The car can be used in very low temperatures. It's used even it's-30°C outside. So the car is parked outside, and when you get in and on the seat, the leather shouldn't crack. Same in summer. A car parked in the sun easily gets as hot as 60-80°C. But the leather shouldn't change either its color or its shape".
In this lab, the leather gets heated even to bigger temperatures. You probably know how to tell good leather from not so good. You might have even tried this test in a clothes store. A match or a lighter. Move it around a bit. A small trial by fire. But in this lab, the fire test is much harsher. Let's time it. 15 seconds. The leather can burn but only to a certain point, not more than 2 cm.
– Elena, what's your opinion?
Elena Ruzaykina, Head of Laboratory: This sample shows a very good result. In this case, both the burning time and speed are 0, because we start counting the burning speed after the fire has reached the first mark.
– So if in 15 seconds, it has burnt up to here, it's within the normal range?
– And it burnt around 20%. -Yes, exactly.
– So it passed the test?
– Yes, absolutely.
– Good leather.
In other areas of the lab, leather is not treated any better. It's getting rubbed, rumpled, bent, stretched, soaked in water, acid and brines, and then stretched again until it…
– Okay, so how strong it's supposed to be?
Vyacheslav Koval, Head of Automotive and Aviation Leather Division: There are certain durability requirements for automotive leather. It has to be quite strong, yet soft to make the passenger comfortable.
– Why weren't you making it before?
– We had to get some experience first. Automotive and aviation leather is the top level of leather craft.
Well, beauty is one thing, but what about crash tests? How is it with the active and passive driving safety systems?
– Do you know of any other car, the development of which was done -in close collaboration with the Protective Service?
That was one of the top officials of the Federal Protective Service. We could just finish here. But actually, our conversation was long and interesting. Too much to fit all of it here.
Vladimir Makarov, Department Head at FSO: All the safety and comfort features that we wanted to see in this car, were implemented in this car.
– Can you say that it's the safest car currently available?
– I think so. Whether it's passive or active driving safety, special safety or information safety, I believe it's the top car.
Still, we decided to check some of the safety features for ourselves. When a 2.5 kg metal ball falls down on the windshield from a height of 4 meters, naturally, there are consequences.
– The glass has to be replaced, right?
Andrey Nikolaev, Quality Inspector: It has to be replaced, yes.
– But it didn't go through.
– It didn't. It passed the test.
– So it's okay?
– It's a safe glass.
This is only one of the many tests that are used to test every shipment of car glass that rolls off the production line of this factory in Bor, Nizhny Novgorod Region. That includes the glass for Aurus cars. But how is it different?
Dmitry Anokhin, AGC Bor Glassworks: First of all, it's additional comfort and safety.
– How is that achieved?
– The windshield has a heating system, to quickly defrost the glass and start the car.
– The same as in production cars.
– There's also a head-up display. The head-up display allows us to avoid distractions while driving.
– Like this image that is projected here? Ah, this way you don't have to look down.
– Those are the main features. The glass on the sides and in the rear is made with the windshield technology. It's a three-layered, triplex glass. It reduces the noise inside the car and improves its safety.
Do the windows have a heating system? What leather is used for upholstery? What engine is under the hood? All these questions are, of course, very important. But what makes up the face of the modern car is in big part its electronic features and other hi-tech gizmos. So what do we have here? This is what's called an agile user interface. It was developed from scratch by NAMI experts, same as the intelligent safety system.
– What's the coolest feature of the car?
Denis Endachev, Director of IT Center at NAMI:
– If we're talking about the limo, it has the expanded view feature which allows to see what's going on around the car. There are extra displays and cameras installed in it. It's a feature that enhances the driving experience, as we can see from the tests.
– So what is the overview?
– 360°. You can see everything around the car. This car also has adaptive cruise control and a lane keeping system. If you turn on both systems at the same time the car can drive along the lane automatically.
– Does it recognize traffic signs?
– It does.
– Does it see pedestrians?
– It does.
Obviously, there was no way around using international components, especially in electronics, but even here, insists Denis, they've achieved 90% localization — made in Russia.
The biggest question is, what's the future of this car? I was preparing to ask this question in German but I didn't have to. Please, meet Gerhard Hilgert, a famous figure in German automotive industry, currently the managing director at Aurus.
Gerhard Hilgert: "The Aurus brand is a luxury brand. So we are planning to target this brand at high-class customers. Our competitors will definitely be such cars as Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes. There are no Russian-made luxury cars currently on the market. I believe it's something many people are interested in because Russian style is distinct. We have a good opportunity, a good chance to win several percent share of the market".
In any case, Project Aurus is already looking to go beyond the market of luxury cars. Here's the new upcoming premiere, an SUV with the formidable name Komendant. The ceremonial unveiling of this car is expected by the end of the year, but it's clearly going to be in the same style as other Aurus models. Also, installed under this hood is the same 600 hp hybrid gasoline engine. The only thing left is to test its performance. After all, it's an SUV. Well, we'll try to get ourselves a test drive.
But for now, let's go back to the test drive of the familiar black Aurus Senat, especially since it doesn't happen often that your driver is the Minister of Industry and Trade.
– How do you like your driving experience?
Denis Manturov: First, you shouldn't forget that it's a heavy, armored car. The light-weight, standard version of this car is very different in terms of the weight. But even the heavy, armored car is very easy to steer. It's responsive to acceleration and braking. You could feel it yourself. There's no body roll. The car performs really well.
– I wasn't scared, thanks to you. Thank you so much!
– Thank you!
At the end of this film, we can safely say that it's just the beginning of the project with the golden name Aurus. There will be new models, new solutions for the design, power system, electronics, and price. The car industry doesn't stand still, and neither do the petrochemical, electronic or metallurgical industries.
The experts say, "Look at the car produced in the country, and you will understand the state of its economy".