An American's desire to do business in the former Soviet Union and a Russian's love of cars came together a a year ago in a partnership that will take a Jeep Eagle dealership to a former Soviet republic.
Their brainchild, the Siberian American International Trading Co., will deliver its first Jeep Cherokees to Kazakhstan by the end of this year, Paul Tashner, president of the company in Westminster, said yesterday.
Mr. Tashner -- who had visited Russia and studied its transportation system while working as a marketing manager for CSX Corp. in Baltimore -- formed the company two years ago to help American and former Soviet business people trade, he said.
He found his partners in Siberia during subsequent trips to the region. The company first looked at Siberia for the dealership, but high taxes there sent the investment group in search of another location.
During an early negotiating tripthat brought his Russian partners to the United States, Mr. Tashner noted that one had a great liking for motor vehicles.
"Wherever we would drive, he'd point out cars, saying, 'That's a '69 T-bird,' or whatever," Mr. Tashner said. "He could ID any type of car. He's a walking encyclopedia."
Sonny Haines of Haines Jeep Eagle in Richmond, Va., came to mind, Mr. Tashner said. He had met Mr. Haines in the Moscow airport when Mr. Tashner was in Russia trying to set up a telecommunications network.
One year later, the doors are ready to open at the dealership in Shymkent, a city in south Kazakhstan, he said.
"He was over there looking for partners, and the guys he met weren't great partner material," Mr. Tashner said of Mr. Haines. "But I had met these guys in Siberia who are really great guys. We now have a really good group with high integrity."
Because Kazakhstan -- located south of Moscow and east of the Caspian Sea -- is landlocked, shipments will have to be unloaded at a Finnish port and then sent by train to Shymkent, Mr. Tashner said.
"Transportation is a bit of a tussle," he said, adding that SAITCO is requesting bids from Sealand and other American transportation companies.
There also are problems with theft of products in transit in that region, Mr. Tashner said.
"People would love to steal one of these new vehicles before it reaches its destination," he said. "So, we're going to do everything we can to make sure it gets there."
Mr. Tashner said that business people there usually hire armed guards to ride with train or truck loads of merchandise to ensure delivery. SAITCO will do the same, he said.
"This is stuff you don't even think about in the U.S.," he said.
"But, if you think about the development of the Wild West, that's a little bit closer," Mr. Tashner said with a laugh. "You have to have guys riding shotgun."
The Cherokees should be well received in "little Texas," a nickname the area has earned from its vast oil reserves and a similarity in shape, Mr. Tashner said.
"We didn't do a strict business survey like we would over here," he said. "We looked at the geopolitical environment."
For example, Kazakhstan has a stable government with the same leader since 1988. The country has honored all its trade agreements and is encouraging foreign business, Mr. Tashner said.
Also, several large oil companies, such as Chevron, Mobil and Shell, plan to begin drilling for oil in the Caspian Sea and western Kazakhstan soon, he said.
"These companies wouldn't be putting billions of dollars into this unless they were sure oil was there," Mr. Tashner said. "This is the equivalent of early Saudi Arabia. The oil revenues are going to make this a very wealthy country."
The dealership, which has already ordered and paid for 100 Cherokees, will be the first offering American cars in the region, he said.
"There are some pickups and some four-wheel drive vehicles, but they are all Japanese and Korean," he said. "There are no American vehicles to speak of."
Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan's capital, had fewer than 10 American cars when Mr. Tashner visited recently, he said.
"There are other cars going in there, so the opportunities are there," he said, recalling the Japanese and German vehicles people were driving.
The Cherokees' $20,000 to $23,000 price tag, while lower than for similar Mitsubishis, will probably appeal only to businesses and government officials in the primarily agricultural area.
"They are the ones who have the ability to purchase them for their employees and have the need for good quality transportation," Mr. Tashner said. "You can imagine how unproductive it can be spending time working on a vehicle."
The new dealership will also have a completely stocked service facility.