Car of cosmonauts to be dropped

Dec. 8, 2005 at 7:20 AM

MOSCOW, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- The Volga passenger car, one of Russia's enduring symbols of Soviet pride, is to be discontinued, The Moscow Times reported Thursday.

Igor Kulgan, an official with RusPromAvto, the Volga's manufacturer, told an automotive conference Wednesday, "It looks unlikely that we're going to continue its production in the near future."

Sales of domestic cars have plummeted in Russia since foreign models arrived in the 1990s, with businessmen abandoning the once-prestigious Volga in favor of Mercedes and BMWs.

RusPromAvto will focus on the production of commercial vehicles.

When the Volga debuted in 1956, it was seen as a triumph of the Soviet automotive industry, and it won a Grand Prize at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.

The boxy sedan was the vehicle of Soviet secret police, cosmonauts and Communist top brass. Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, was rewarded with a Volga when he returned to Earth in 1961.

President Vladimir Putin's meticulously maintained 1956 model made international headlines during President Bush's visit to Moscow last May. Putin invited Bush for a drive, then turned over the wheel to the U.S. president.

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