Joke's on Putin as Lada fails to start
Question: How many many attempts does a Russian strongman need to start a Lada car?
Answer: Five, if Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's latest encounter with the much-derided brand is an example.
Putin took the wheel of its latest model, the Lada Granta, in a test drive zone while on a visit Wednesday to the headquarters of its troubled manufacturer Avtovaz in the Volga River city of Tolyatti.
Dressed in his preferred outfit of sports jacket, shirt and dark sunglasses, Putin confidently got into the driving seat of the vehicle for a drive with Avtovaz's top management.
The atmosphere changed however when Putin turned the keys in the ignition and the vehicle's engine failed to start. And then again. And again. And again.
Only on the fifth attempt and after a few helping words from Avtovaz chief executive Igor Komarov in the passenger seat did Putin manage to roar finally off into the distance, video posted on the lifenews.ru website showed.
Ironically, the hiccup was not due to any technical malfunction with the Lada -- the butt of a line of jokes from the West in its boxy incarnation of Soviet years -- but the premier's own lack of expertise.
Russian news agencies said Putin explained that he was unaware that the new model had an electronic accelerator pedal and he did not need to press too hard.
Putin is seeking to promote the Lada brand and wean Russian consumers away from foreign-made models after the government rescued Avtovaz from near bankruptcy in the economic crisis.
Last summer, he drove through Siberia in another Lada model, the Kalina, in a bid to show the car could ensure even the most arduous trip.
Speaking to reporters after his latest drive, Putin appeared impressed with the new Granta.
"Look how big the boot (trunk) is, it's so big you could get two sacks of potatoes in there," he said in typical earthy style.
"The chief said that this is the cheap version. But it's good. Overall I liked it," he added, according to quotes on the government website.
© 2011 AFP