A New York trading company that specializes in Soviet-American trade plans to introduce a no-frills Russian-built economy car for sale in the United States, possibly in early 1981.
The chairman of Satra Corp. said in an interview this week that he believes the company is within six months of complying with Environmental Protection Agency and safety regulations that must be met before the car can be imported.
The car in question is the Lada, a 76-horse-power subcompact car with a body design similar to the Fiat but an engine and suspension system of Soviet design. The Lada is already being imported by Satra to England and West Germany.
With sales still at least a year off, the company does not quote an exact price but said the car will sell for "in excess of $4,500" -- a price that puts it in the range of other small imported economy cars.
Satra expects to import 5,000 cars initially, building up to imports of 50,000 to 60,000 within five years, said chairman Ara Oztemel. Imports at that level would give the Lada approximately .05 percent of the American car market.
The cars will be imported through Savannah, Ga., where Satra plans to build a plant to put finishing touches on the cars for sale in the U.S. market. "Eventually we must have an import center in the New York-New Jersey area a well," said Oztemel.
Oztemel said Satra has not completed arrangements with distributors yet but that a large number have expressed an interest in selling the car, including "some of the major U.S. auto makers."
The car is produced in a Soviet factory built in conjunction with Fiat, whose body design the car follows. What distinguishes the car, according to Satra officials, is its suspension system -- "designed to meet the Soviet Union's rugged road conditions" -- and its uncomplicated engineering.
"It's bought by people interest in a reliable, uncomplicated and economical-to-service car," said Oztemel.
Oztemel said that Satra has been working with U.S. agencies for approximately three years on meeting the requirements that will make the Lada eligible for import.
"We've done a lot of work with EPA. We've done a lot of work in our emission control lab in New Jersey," said Oztemel. "As the tests are performed, the results are taken to the Soviet Union and implemented in the factory."
Satra, a publicly traded company which is about 70 percent owned by Oztemel, was founded in the early 1950s. Initially the company was principally involved in importing chrome ore and other ores and metals to the United States.
"The subject of chrome was what took me to the Soviet Union," said Oztemel. An Armenian whose family lived in Turkey, Oztemel came to the United States to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and went into business here while he was in school.
Oztemel began trade with the Soviet Union in a time when it was almost nonexistent. With an office in Moscow that employs approximately 26 workers, Satra is one of some dozen U.S. companies accredited to do business in the Soviet Union. The company's volume in 1979 was approximately $312 million.
The company has three major divisions, including its auto division. Another division runs three plants that produce ferroalloys, a product used in the production of stainless steel and items that are heat and corrosive resistant. The plants -- in Steubenville, Ohio; Charleston, S.C., and Vargon, Sweden -- consume large quantities of the chrome Satra exports from the Soviet Union and elsewhere.
Satra also has a trading division, which handles the trade in metals and ores and imports other items to the Soviet Union, including synthetic rubber and medical supplies.
During the early 1970s, Satra Consulting Co., also represented some 50 American blue chip companies in their dealings with the Soviet Union.
Through its trading division, Satra has also been involved in selling U.S. movies to the Soviet Union and bringing Soviet films here, including a massive production of "War and Peace." Satra also imports Russian icons and antiques and sells them through Parke-Bernet.
The compnay also negotiated for the broadcast rights to the 1980 Olympics, rights which ultimately went to NBC. However, Satra retained video-tape and other rights to the games, said Oztemel.
The chill in Soviet-American relations has not seriously hurt Satra's business, although the company suffered some when dockworkers refused to unload ships coming from the Soviet Union, Oztemel said.
But he predicted that the long-term results of partial trade embargoes may injure American interests in the long run. "I sensed frustration and some surprise," during a recent visit to Moscow," he said.
"In terms of trade, I felt some very serious damage has been done," he said "I think it will be a long time before the Soviets will consider buying for the long-term -- or buying products that need spare and replacement parts -- from the United States, because trade can be interrupted," Oztemel said.
For instance, computers purchased from American firms are now idle because the Soviets cannot get parts, he said.