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South Korea’s Hyundai launches Saint Petersburg plant

South Korea’s Hyundai Motor on Tuesday launched its first plant in Russia, joining a rush of foreign automakers to Saint Petersburg despite a sharp drop in sales during crisis-hit 2009.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin applauded Hyundai’s 500-million-dollar (380-million-euro) investment in the Russian plant since the start of its construction ahead of the crisis in 2008.

“This happened during the heat of the financial crisis, but Hyundai did not curtail its plans, on the contrary,” Putin said.

Putin, who was later due to hold a roundtable with foreign automakers in Russia’s second largest city, stressed that the South Korean firm was the first foreign carmaker to launch a “full-cycle” plant in Russia.

“For us, it’s important that this is a full-cycle plant, from (steel) stamping to assembly,” he said.

Hyundai said it expected to start production in January 2011 and to reach an annual capacity of 105,000 units by the end of that year and 150,000 units in 2012.

The automaker Tuesday also unveiled a new sedan model — dubbed Solaris — to be fully manufactured in Russia.

Hyundai “plans to create 5,300 jobs by 2012 in Saint Petersburg… and furthermore, contribute to the advancement of Russia’s automotive industry by developing and supporting local automotive parts manufacturers,” company chairman Chung Mong-koo said in a statement.

Hyundai is the latest of a slew of foreign auto companies to launch plants in Saint Petersburg in recent years, including Japan’s Toyota, Nissan and Suzuki as well as US companies Ford and General Motors.

Through August this year, Hyundai sold 53,282 vehicles, marking a 15 percent increase on the same period last year, as the Russian car market begins to recover from near 50 percent contraction in sales last year.

Russian car sales rose for the first time since October 2008 this summer, according to the Association of European Businesses (AEB), a lobby group that compiles monthly statistics.