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New Russian owner of Hyundai's old St Petersburg plant launches Solaris production

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the logo of Hyundai Motor during the 2019 Seoul Motor Show in Goyang

(Reuters) - The new Russian owner of Hyundai's St Petersburg plant on Thursday said it was launching production and sales of cars under the Solaris brand, weeks after the South Korean carmaker sold its assets and left Russia.

Hyundai produces a model called Solaris. The new owner, AGR Automotive, made no mention of Hyundai in a statement announcing the launch. Hyundai did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

Pictures in the statement showed cars that looked identical to Hyundai and Kia car models. Hyundai and Kia combined sold 377,612 cars in Russia in 2021, the year before the country invaded Ukraine - more than Russia's biggest carmaker Avtovaz.

Hyundai finalised its Russia exit in January, after earlier agreeing a deal to sell its assets for 10,000 roubles, taking a 287 billion won loss. Operations at its main plant were suspended in March 2022.

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Most European, Japanese and South Korean carmakers suspended production and left the Russian market after Moscow launched its war in Ukraine, often selling out for a nominal fee as Russia has made it difficult to extract funds.

AGR Automotive said the plant would produce Solaris HS, Solaris HC, Solaris KRS and Solaris KRX models, which will be sold through AGR's dealer network.

The company did not explain how the cars would be produced and did not disclose planned production volumes or retail prices.

"The start of production and sales of cars under the new Solaris brand is a very important stage in the realisation of our strategy," AGR CEO Alexei Kalitsev said in a statement.

Customs data seen by Reuters showed that Russian company Automotive Technologies had imported at least 42 car kits for assembling Citroen models at a plant south of Moscow, formerly owned by Stellantis.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)