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6 Sep 2023

Dream coming true: How Lukashenko turned Geely into people's car

Dream coming true: How Lukashenko turned Geely into people's car
Aleksandr Lukashenko at the solemn ceremony to commission the BelGee factory, 2017

In 2015 the president hosted a meeting to explore the prospects to produce cars in Belarus. Back then the opponents laughed at Lukashenko's dream. Although, had they listened carefully to what the president said, they would have taken the Belarusian car project not as a pipe dream, but as an absolutely feasible plan. In the new episode of BelTA's YouTube project “After the fact: Lukashenko's decisions” we will tell you how a people's car came into being, what projects Geely's production can compare to, what the president views as the best advertisement for a domestic car.

History behind Belarus' first car

Belarus has always been famous for the production of passenger vehicles, trucks, agricultural machinery and road construction equipment. Only one thing was missing - a car. The president understood that it was too late to create a car industry from scratch, it was no longer possible to catch up with competitors. But Belarus could join efforts with those who know how to make good cars. Thus, the president suggested teaming up with a foreign car-maker to design a good car using its own technology and Belarus' solutions.

“We have made a decision: we will have our own car and we will design and produce it together with China based on its technology. This does not mean that we will simply copy a car design from their manufacturers and make a copycat car. We have the necessary competencies to assemble and produce trucks and car parts. And we should make use of this experience and our own developments, like those of the National Academy of Sciences, and our know-how in applied science,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the meeting to discuss the investment project to build a car assembly factory in 2015.

Thus, the Belarusians, in collaboration with the Chinese, began to build a factory to make the so-called BelGee car. The business plan provided for $318 million in investments to build the factory and the entire internal infrastructure. The president set a task to cut costs as much as possible. The government was instructed to keep an eye on this project, assess the market demand, and make plans for new models.

“We will make the team produce top-quality cars. Given the high production and service standards in Belarus and close government control, the car is going to be good. But some other cars out there will be better, though more expensive. And it will be up to people to decide: to buy our car or choose an expensive, but well-known brand. Therefore, the number one thing is the market demand,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the meeting in 2015.

Path towards Belarus' own car production

The president took this project under personal control. The Belarus President Administration and the State Control Committee closely monitored the construction process. The head of state received regular updates on the project. The government developed a draft resolution to regulate car production. This was unfolding against a rather challenging background. Back then, there were about three dozen car assembly companies in Russia alone. It was necessary to cut costs, maintain a good level of salaries and tax revenues. In addition, Belarus had to keep China interested in the project.

“The development of domestic mechanical engineering and machine tool industry is taking on new significance. If Belarus fails to promote these industries, it will have to keep buying foreign equipment and will remain dependent on their import. As to transportation engineering, the state will inject most of investments into big breakthrough projects, such as production of Geely cars, capacity building at the BelAZ producer of dump trucks, MAZ upgrade and production of vehicle parts,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the Belarusian People's Congress in 2016.

The production of a domestic car in Belarus is given the same priority as space projects and the construction of the nuclear power plant. This important science-intensive project was destined to materialize. In November 2017 the first production car Geely Atlas NL3 rolled off the assembly line at the BelGee factory in the presence of the head of state.

BelGee factory capacity

The new enterprise is located between Borisov and Zhodino and covers an area of 118 ha. The company has hired over 1,300 people. The production capacity is up to 60,000 cars per year with the possibility of further expansion. The dream of the president and many Belarusians - to make their own car - has come true! But the factory commissioning is just the beginning. It's hard to make a car, but even harder to sell it.

“I want us to produce more here and to make this enterprise profitable. Otherwise, it will be just a pet project to please the eye. If the company makes 10,000 cars a year, it will make no profit. As you know, it is not a problem to produce something. The main thing is to sell it. The government has been instructed to develop a plan to sell at least 60,000 cars domestically and abroad. This is a small number, but it will be enough to make a profit and pay good salaries,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the solemn ceremony to commission the BelGee factory near Borisov.

The president encouraged the factory staff to buy the cars that they produce, as this will send a message to others that these cars are really good. “Your top management and I, together with representatives of the People's Republic of China, will think of ways to encourage employees to drive this car. When you drive the car that you make, it will be the best advertisement,” the president said.

What terms Belarusians have to buy a locally-produced car

The president's decision was to ban all officials from buying imported cars. Every official - from a MP to a chairperson of the district executive committee – were to use home-made vehicles. Can you call it dictatorship? No, you definitely can't. It is more like a matter of honor and protection of national interests. Officials using locally-produced cars will be the best indicator of quality.

"Today we are thinking about the opportunities we have to help you, young people, buy this car. A family always needs a car. We will be thinking of how to support you. I think we will find very good options. The relevant document will be issued soon,” Aleksandr Lukashenko answered the question of one of the workers of the BelGee car plant after an official opening ceremony. In his words, the document will envisage various options, including loans, installments leasing.

”Our people have got used to the best conditions when they buy a locally-produced car. Loans, leasing below the refinancing rate of the National Bank are available today. This speaks a lot. All countries offer such options. I know that Russia always offer incentives to individuals to buy locally-produced cars. 20% of VAT from car sales goes to the budget. The more cars are bought, the more the budget is replenished,” BelGee Director General Gennady Svidersky said.

How Belarus develops a network of Geely service stations

The president also instructed to develop a network of service stations across the country to enable every Belarusian to receive maintenance services and make necessary repairs to their cars. Nobody needs a toy car. The enterprise should be profitable. The head of state also drew attention to the need to set up an in-house design bureau at the car-making plant.

”We got some assistance from foreign specialists. But we need to have our own experts. At first, we need some 10-13 specialists who will contact our designers from MAZ, BelAZ and will slowly accumulate experience to design and produce cars from scratch,”Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the opening of the BelGee car plant in 2017, calling for technological independence in car-making.

”The Institute of National Academy of Sciences has a group of experts who work on passenger cars. A think tank for passenger cars is being developed there. This competence center will let us have engineering competence in this sector,” Gennady Svidersky said.

He also paid attention to the development of Geely services stations: “This is the sector where improvement can never be enough. We are making gradual progress here. Now we have 33 service stations cross the country. We have improved the situation with component parts. Not everything is ideal yet, but we will keep working in order to improve our services.”

How the friendly relations with China helped Belarus launch Geely production

The project was a success largely thanks to trustworthy friendly relations between the Belarusian president and the president of China. Geely is just one example of mutually beneficial cooperation. The relations between our countries have passed the test of time. Today the two countries enjoy an unprecedentedly high level of cooperation, confirmed by the signed statement on all-weather and comprehensive strategic partnership.

“I warmly welcome you, Mr. President, in China. A meeting between longtime friends is always a pleasure. We last met in Samarkand in September 2022. We had remarkable talks, during which we announced that the China-Belarus relations were rising to the level of all-weather and comprehensive strategic partnership. This served as a powerful impetus for full-scale cooperation between the two countries. The new status of bilateral relations should be filled with new projects and achievements,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told the Belarusian president as they met in China in March 2023.

One more idea was agreed upon during the Belarusian president's recent visit to China. It was about launching a production facility in Belarus with the help of specialists from the Chinese automobile corporation FAW. The initiative was supported by Xi Jinping. Founded in Jilin Province in 1953, FAW is considered the founder of the country's automobile industry.

“You know our interest in you. You make good cars. If you have the desire and ambition to work in Belarus, I am at your service. I would like us to produce a good car in Belarus together. If we want to have results and achieve success, it should be done now, and it should be done quickly while the territories and markets for our future products are still free,” Aleksandr Lukashenko called to develop joint car production in Belarus together with China's FAW Group during his visit to China in March 2023.

”Belarus and China are implementing a number of important projects, such as the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC), Geely car production, and many others. These are landmark projects for the whole world, for Europe. With these projects, we want to show the world that cooperation between Belarus and China is not just trade and exchange of goods. It is the development of high-tech companies and corporations,” the Belarusian leader said addressing Zhu Hexin, Chairman of the Board of CITIC Group Corporation, during the visit to China.

How Geely became a people's car in Belarus

In late October 2020, Geely became the first Chinese car brand to sell more than 10 million cars worldwide. By the end of April 2022, global sales exceeded 12 million cars. It is safe to say that the Belarusian plant is part of the world-class brand. There are queues for Geely cars in Belarus. Isn't it a sign of a popular car? There is an agreement with China on the licensed production of their cars. That means Belarus will have a locally-produced car in the future.

”There are always orders for cars. A passenger car is a product of many companies. Our planning is based on the demand. Last year we sold 4,300 new cars. This year we have projected to sell 20% more and ordered 6,000 sets. But the demand has exceeded the supply. In January-July 2023 we sold 8,000 cars, twice as many as in the previous year. It is hard to plan. Now we are balancing everything out, adjusting our plans and are expected to sell 13,000 cars. This is three times up from the past year,” Gennady Svidersky said.

“A months-long queue is already a big step forward. In my time, people were in that queue for years, could not buy a car at all. Thus, what we have now is already big progress. However, it is bad to have to wait in the queue, on the one hand. On the other hand, I am glad that there is demand for this car. There were some doubts in the first few months. But I hoped that people would be buying this car. It is a good car. It is our car. With all the shortcomings (I had to get involved in addressing a number of repair and spare parts issues) we keep the project under control and will continue promoting this car,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said as he spoke to the workers of organizations at Minsk National Airport in August 2023.

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