IVALO, Finland-Nokian Tyres Ltd. has committed itself to serving the Russian passenger tire market as a significant part of its business strategy. Pentti Rantala, Nokian's vice-president of marketing, said the company has placed a high priority on the Russian market, investing in employees fluent in the Russian language.
Mr. Rantala said accurate statistics are hard to come by, but as a rough guide, 20 percent of those living in St. Petersburg, Moscow and other major cities are wealthy by Russian standards, and can afford to own an inexpensive car. And about 10 percent of the population of those cities is wealthy by Western standards and able to afford cars in the Mercedes or BMW bracket.
Nevertheless, there are still difficulties in accessing that market, Mr. Rantala said. ``There is no infrastructure, no specialized tire shops and wholesalers are not always as professional as they might be,'' he said.
Separately, Mikhail Galkin, deputy editor of the glossy Russian car magazine, Autopilot, said the Russian market is very young and most consumers are very susceptible to advertising messages.
``People do not know which brands are the best or the best-known,'' he said, ``There is a real opportunity for smaller companies to build a strong brand image over here before the big boys come in.''
Mr. Rantala said St. Petersburg is so close to Nokian's headquarters in Nokia, Finland, that he can drive there in six hours or so, and the similarity in weather and road conditions makes Nokian tires even more appropriate to the Russian market.