GAZ, the Cold War’s giant automaker for the million-man armies of the former USSR and the rest of the Eastern Bloc, now brings their GAZelle Next oversized vans and minibuses to the Philippines, pitching their Cityline model in particular for the government’s public utility jeepney modernization program.

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Next evolution

First established almost nine decades ago, GAZ (which stands for Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod or the Gorky Automobile Plant, translated into English) started out as the Russian communist government’s cooperative effort with the Ford Motor Company in 1929. Now, even after Perestroika and Glasnost in the 1990’s, GAZ continues to be Russia’s biggest automaker after prudently having discontinued their passenger car lines and focusing instead on trucks, buses and military vehicle production.

Introduced in 2015, the GAZelle Next is the latest evolution of their original GAZelle Business and smaller GAZelle Sobol lines which first rolled out in the 1990’s after Perestroika reforms. And, those original GAZelle Business and Sobol models, have been credited with facilitating the growth of small- and medium-scale enterprises in what is now Russia and its surrounding Confederation of Independent States or CIS.

While previous GAZelle Business and Sobol lines featured homegrown, Russian-built GAZ engines, the new Next line seems more prepared for a discerning global market with U.S.-branded Cummins ISF 2.8L turbodiesels that are up to Euro 4 and Euro 5 standards.

Next vans and Next Cityline buses

The large, 6.4m long GAZelle Next vans and minibuses are in the same class as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Volkswagen Crafter, and can seat as many as 17 people–16 passengers plus the driver. These mount the Cummins ISF2.8s4R148 delivering peak power of 150hp @ 3400rpm, peak torque of 330Nm @ 1800~2600rpm. The GAZelle Next vans are rated for a top speed of 130km/h but are most efficient at city cruising speeds with mileage numbers of 11.76km/l at 60km/h and a slightly degraded 9.7km/l at 80km/h.

GAZelle Next van

The specially configured GAZelle Next Cityline city commuter with its tall windows and curbside doors front and back, was kept shorter at 6m but also wider than the standard Next vans to mount seating rows of four abreast. It seats a total of 19 people–18 passengers plus the driver–and all in front-facing seats. The Cityline has a slightly tuned down diesel compared to standard Next vans, its Cummins ISF2.8s4R129 delivering peak power of 130 hp @ 3200rpm, peak torque of 295Nm @ 1600~2700rpm. Predictably, it has a lower top speed of 110km/h but the diesel detuning renders the bigger, heavier Cityline as efficient as its standard Next counterparts with mileage of as much as 11.76km/l at typically top city speeds of 60km/h.

GAZelle Next Cityline minibus

GAZ Philippines

The GAZelle Next vans and GAZelle Next Cityline buses are just the first GAZ models that’ll be brought here by Philippine distributor Gazelle Motors Corporation, a subsidiary of major industry player Eastern Petroleum. GAZ Group SVP for Sales and Marketing Christian Kremer said that, “the start of sales of multi-functional, reliable and eco-friendly GAZelle Next minibuses is the first stage of our entrance in the Philippine market, which is interesting from both points of view – commercial sales and in terms of participation in a large-scale state program of public transport modernization.” Kremer added, “I am sure that together with such a strong partner as Gazelle Motors Corp., we will be able to quickly and confidently develop in this market.”

Gazelle Motors Chairman and CEO Dr. Fernando Martinez said that they are pitching the GAZelle Next models, the Cityline in particular, as replacements for public jeepneys under the Class 1 category of the government’s modernization initiative. While the original Class 1 specification was for 10 to 14 seat transports for short city routes of around 5km, this has recently been expanded into sub-classes 1a and 1b.

GAZelle Next Cityline minibus

With this expansion, 10- to 14-seaters in sub-class 1a are supplemented with 15- to 20-seaters in sub-class 1b. It’s to the latter that Cityline minibuses look ideally matched with its capacity for 18 passengers and the driver in front-facing seats, plus the standing headroom for several more passengers in the aisle, and all these even without yet trying to reconfigure it with more efficient side-facing seats. Dr. Martinez asserted that, “the Philippines will benefit from advanced technology from Russia with respect to reliable and competitively-priced vehicles,” adding that “comfort” is one of the major benefits they intend to deliver to common commuters.

Dr. Martinez estimates that with substantial tariffs totaling 32% on Russian imports somewhat offset by around P185k in government subsidy, per unit, they could price the GAZelle Next Cityline at around P1.3M. For sales and servicing, he points to Gazelle Motors’ 5 dealer centers across the country, and to their 35 accredited service centers nationwide through local partners Rapide and Payless.

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