Production in the Urals suspended as expansion in Kazakstan confirmed

Ural CEO says Russian motorcycle maker IMZ-Ural, creator of vintage-style sidecars loosely based on wartime BMW designs, is pausing bike production while expanding operations outside of Russia as that country continues to wage war on Ukraine. While much of the world is outraged by Russian military action in Ukraine, international communities have responded with embargoes and other obstacles to obtaining needed parts and financing across many industries in Russia, including including the production of motorcycles.

In a 15-minute YouTube video posted April 22 by the company, Ural CEO Ilya Khait said he had decided to open a factory in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan. The new facility is about 400 miles southeast of Ural’s current home in Irbit and will not replace the current manufacturing plant, but rather a final assembly point, according to Khait. The CEO said frames and body parts will continue to be manufactured at the Irbit plant and then shipped to the Kazakhstan plant for final assembly and likely shipping.

Kazakhstan is both a former territory of the Soviet Union and a current member of NATO, and borders both China and Russia. It is also landlocked, predominantly Muslim, and is the 9th largest country in the world by land area. With only 19 million inhabitants, it is also one of the least densely populated places on the planet. The city of Petropavlovsk is just across the border with Russia, geographically speaking.

Khait says production of new bikes is on hold for “at least” six months while they build the new facility and stock up on parts, according to a blog post on the company’s website.

Ural was founded at the start of World War II after the Russians reverse-engineered five BMW R71 motorcycles they had purchased through a middleman (Sweden) in order to upgrade their motorcycles less capable and improve their war mobility capabilities. Thousands of units were produced during the war. Although Ural motorcycles have evolved mechanically and technically over time (and the company has also changed hands a few times), they still closely resemble the pre-war air-cooled BMW boxers on which they are based. Indeed, once original BMWs copied from the Urals are exhibited in the Urals Museum. Exports of Ural machines began in 1953.

Two 41-hp 749cc models are now in the lineup, the more street-oriented $16,999 cT and the off-road-oriented $18,999 Gear Up. Both have sidecars, with the Gear Up able to engage the side hack wheels for 2WD operation. Both models are “temporarily unavailable” according to the Urals website.

To be clear, Khait says the move is more of an expansion than the company’s flight from its longtime home in Irbit in Russia proper. Asked by the anonymous interviewer why Kazakhstan was chosen rather than, say, Vietnam or the latest hotbed of motorcycle production, India, Khait says the location was chosen so the move could be completed quickly. “We need to do this quickly,” he says in the video.

It should be noted that Mr. Khait must choose his words carefully because the powers that be can certainly access YouTube and he is still in Russia and operates a well-known business. He does not express his support or opposition to the war in the video, although this appears to be a cause of frustration for the company on a business level. Indeed, in the video, it seems that his concern is mainly focused on obtaining parts, assembling motorcycles, continuing business and setting up operations in Kazakhstan as soon as possible.

Khait goes on to say that the new location may have even more negatives than the current Irbit location, but adds that it has key positives, primarily in that it is not in Russia. He also claims that border crossings are not difficult between the two Russian-speaking countries. It also leaves open the possibility that the Urals will move operations again in the future.

Comments are closed.