Russian business prodigy purchases British carmaker


Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 12

At 24, Nikolai Smolensky is an alumnus of British private schools and a former bank chairman who divides his time between his native Moscow and London.

Now the young business prodigy has joined the ranks of big Russian investors in Britain with a purchase that is second in profile only to that of Chelsea football club by the billionaire, Roman Abramovich.

Sports car manufacturer TVR, which is based in Blackpool and has been owned for more than 20 years by Peter Wheeler, announced late on Tuesday it had been purchased in full by Smolensky.

Wheeler is expected to stay on as a senior consultant. The sale price has not been made public, though speculation in the Russian media has put it in the range of ?15 million (US$27.3 million).

TVR is one of the few privately owned car firms in Britain and specializes in manufacturing high-performance luxury vehicles such as the Chimaera and Griffith. The firm's profile has grown since one of its cars was featured in the film Swordfish. It opened a showroom in Moscow this month.

TVR, which employs 400 people, produces 800 cars a year, most of which are destined for the British market. There are hopes that the new owner will provide funds for the firm's expansion.

TRV spokesman Ben Samuelson said: "What Smolensky is proposing to do is to supply the resources to be able to take our place on the world stage."

Smolensky -- who was named Russia's youngest rouble billionaire last winter by Finance magazine, with an estimated fortune of 2.9 billion roubles (US$997 million) -- inherited his entrepreneurial spirit, as well as at least some of his money, from his father, Alexander Smolensky, who founded the Stolichny Bank group -- which would later grow into SBS-Agro -- in 1989.

The younger Smolensky has so far declined media interviews this week, issuing a statement through TVR instead: "I am very enthusiastic about the potential of TVR and am grateful for the opportunity to become a car manufacturer."