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31 August 2014

«A Streetcar of the Desire: How the Project of R1 Tram that Amazed the internet was Created»


RBC News about Tram R1

«A gem in a rim», «A Streetcar Killer», «Tram - Meat Mincer», «iPhone on Rails» – feedbacka about Russia One (R1) tram are contradictory in the Internet. The Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who visited the presentation of R1 at Innoprom 2014 liked the tram. «And now again about the tram. Now we will sign the contract immediately,» – says CEO of Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) Oleg Sienko to Medvedev, smiling. «Let’s do it,» – he answers, looking at the two young people standing in front of him.

Until recently, Alexey Maslov and Maksim Kuzin had no relation to the design of vehicles. Now they quietly tell Medvedev about the tram – easily, because on the eve of the highly anticipated presentation they have not slept for three days and they have no powers left for the excitement. After inspecting the tram, the representatives of Yekaterinburg administration sign the agreement with UVZ to supply 50 low-floor R1 trams for the World Cup in 2018.

RBC Magazine figured out how a little-known Maslov Laboratory managed to reach giant state-owned companies and convince them that the tram can exist not only in drawings and sketches.

Laboratory and Atom

The building housing the office of Maslov Laboratory, recently had much dilapidated facade. Now the building has been renovated so that sounds like a new building. Maxim Kuzin, general director of Maslov Laboratory, meets me at the entrance. He finishes a cigarette, puts it out on the bottom of the training shoe and puts a butt in the back pocket of his jeans.

- Well, why throwing it here – he says, catching my puzzled look. – Why not install the trash can? You are engaged in industrial design, aren’t you? – Yes we have it, but round the corner. I’ll throw the butt in the office.

Do not make unnecessary movements – that, in short, is a key skill of Maxim Kuzin. «Specialization» field in his resume says «Management of working groups, achieving target efficiency and capacity». He is responsible approximately for that in Maslov Laboratory. «Maslov is doing what he most loves and knows how to do – he generates ideas and comes up with the design. And I’m helping to put these very ideas to life», – he concludes.

Photo: Marc Bonneville for RBC

While working with Uralvagonzavod, Alexey Maslov often talked about transport design: he spoke at the meetings, offered his ideas

Maxim graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute and long worked in advertising agencies. A few years later he resigned and began to advise the companies as a project manager. In 2013, Maslov Laboratory became one of the customers of Maxim. Soon the guys began to work together in partnership arrangements.

The premises occupied by Maslov Laboratory is furnished according to «creative spaces»: brick walls, high ceilings, furniture from IKEA. On a hanger – a gray sweatshirt with the logo of UVZ – the largest domestic machine-building enterprise Uralvagonzavod – and a major customer of Maslov Laboratory. Maxim introduces the employees of the company sitting in the room, rather the employees of two companies – Maslov Laboratory, established in 2010, and Atom Experimental Design Bureau (OKB Atom), registered already during working on the tram.

«25-40 people are constantly involved in our projects. Most of them are collaborating with us remotely as freelancers. Normally, the company employs 13 people,» – Maxim says. Two years ago, business in the Lab was different: the lab rented more modest premises, and its staff consisted of two people.

«I was probably the first designer who was taken in the Laboratory, – says a former employee of the company Alexander Denisov, who worked for Maslov from mid-2012. – Most of the time we were sitting in the office with Alexey together. He always spoke with the customer himself, as a rule, he invented and sold the idea to the customer, and only then gave orders to me».

Right away, Alexey Maslov had an idea that tram cabin should be tilted forward

Mathematician, engineer, designer

Alexey Maslov has graduated from Military Space Academy n.a. A.F. Mozhaisky on specialty «Mathematics». In 2002, he moved from Saint-Petersburg to Moscow, in the daytime drawing military service, and in the evening moonlighting in advertising agencies. Alexey has no design education – he says that he just always liked to draw.

«My parents told me that I began to draw prior to speaking,» – he laughs. In 2004, he settled in «Rules of the Game» PR-agency of Peter Shepin, commercial director of Channel One. One and a half years of cooperation with television was enough to make necessary contacts and to get involved in television «crowd» – after that, Maslov worked as a designer at NTV and VGTRK channels.

In 2006, was an acquaintance important to Maslov – with well-known online pro-Kremlin propagandists Konstantin Rykov and Alexey Zharich. At that time, Rykov organized website, and ordered the design of the portal from Maslov. This and several other web resources were joined in New Media Stars holding, with Rykov as CEO and Zharich as his deputy. For the projects of Rykov, Maslov created Redstorm design studio. «Alexey, like any other designer, dreamed of his own company. Redstorm, apparently, was an attempt to establish such one, at least at the level of the brand,» – says Vitaly Bykov, the director of Red Keds creative agency. Redstorm lasted not for long: in 2008, Maslov left to «Snob» for the post of art director of the media group, about that time, Redstorm closed.

But Alexey continued to deal with third-party orders. When TV broadcasting company VID, a major producer of programs for Channel One was transformed into «Red Square», the new management has ordered a design of the brand book to Maslov. «We chose young but ambitious designer at that time. As a result, in a short time we created a vivid image of the company, which remains relevant to this day," – says CEO of Red Square GC, Ilya Krivitsky. Soon Uralvagonzavod, the largest producer of armored vehicles in Russia, applied to Alexey Maslov.

Among Friends

In 2009, management of Uralvagonzavod has changed. The company was headed by Oleg Sienko, who previously led Gazexport LLC, daughter company of Gazprom. In the wake of personnel replacements, Alexey Zharich was invited to evaluate the information policy of the corporation as a third party consultant. Zharich, who had several high-profile pro-Putin projects behind, wrote a concept of information development for UVZ for two years in advance, called «Back to Basics». Alexey Zharich was called to embody it in 2010.

«Alexey wanted big braid to come out ahead – something like a bumper. It would be very effective from some project views, but look too aggressively from the others. We have long been puzzled over it, and then solved the problem simply: we just removed this protruding «lip» – Yaroslav Rassadin says, who participated in the sketch design.

A key step in «Back to Basics» meant global rebranding of UVZ. «Previous logo – green letter «U» with stripes was designed in the 1990-s and looked like «remake». It was obvious that positioning of UVZ needed drastic change,» – says Alexey Zharich, now working in the corporation as the deputy general director of relations with media and the bodies of state power. Having such a task, he applied to already proven person – Alexey Maslov.

However, Zharich states that Maslov Laboratory offered the most favorable conditions to UVZ: other branding agencies required at least $1 million. «The corporation was in dire financial conditions, and we could not afford such a price,» – Zharich says. And the price of Maslov Laboratory services, he said, was measured «in millions of rubles».

Maslov liked the project, he retired from «Snob» and went to Yekaterinburg to UVZ. «I spent a few days at the plant, I was taken to the workshops, and they showed me how it works,» – he said. Back in Moscow, Alexey took up the project. According to SPARK-Interfax, Design Laboratory of Alexey Maslov LLC was registered on August 26, 2010. And on September 1, UVZ announced the launch of the new website.

UVZ can not count how much «Back to Basics» costs. «Rebranding lasted three years and comes to an end just now,» – Zharich says. On average, such a project is worth 5.3 million rubles, its embodiment – another 20-40 million, says the head of Depot WPF agency and co-president of the Association of Branding Companies of Russia Alexey Andreev.

In 2012, Zharich included the Laboratory to another project – launch of the store with branded clothing In total, it was supposed to spend about 20 million rubles for the project, while the Laboratory had to develop clothing design and the website of the store.

«We wanted to sew clothing at the factories in the PRC according to their own templates. In order for us to be introduced with the representatives in China, we even applied to the Chamber of Commerce,» – says Alexey Zharich. In 2013, when the project deadlines were coming, Maslov met with Maxim Kuzin, knowing that he specializes in establishing workflows. As a result, Maxim was engaged in «guiding» the store and other projects of the Laboratory. Now clothes from UVZ can be bought from the online store and small offline stores, but mostly it is handed out to partners and customers.

Photo: Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

A few years ago Maxim Kuzin worked in advertising agencies. Now he heads Maslov Laboratory and OKB Atom and is engaged in establishing serial production of R1

False start

While working with UVZ, Maslov often talked about industrial design. «Alexey spoke at meetings, offered his ideas on how to improve the situation with light rail,» – Zharich says. In the summer of 2012, the corporation has introduced its novelty at Innoprom – Russia’s first three-section low-floor tram 71-409. It passed the final tests in Yekaterinburg and have not yet gone on sale. Specifications of the tram were beyond doubt, but the design of the «novelty» was out of date even before the model went into mass production.

«The price of a conventional single-section tram is about 20 million rubles, and completely low-floor model of 71-409 costs from 35 million rubles. But for premium segment, the tram needs a new design and new technologies,» – Alexey Nosov, the general director of Uraltransmash, says. It was obvious that it will not be easy to sell such a tram. Then Oleg Sienko first said that to compete with foreign manufacturers, we need to radically change the exterior of the tram.

This remark was perceived by Alexey Maslov as a guide to action and he started creating a sketch of the new tram. He appealed for help to Yaroslav Rassadin, chief designer of Marussia Motors Design Bureau. «Alex, as a rule, has a clear image in his head. Then he thought of a tram in a very classic design, with a small «front», – Yaroslav says.

The project took about four months: the layout a little less than a meter in length was cut from a special foam on the milling machine, and was painted in orange car paint. According to Alexey Maslov, everyone at UVZ liked the model of an orange tram. Nevertheless, the project stalled.

And soon Maslov and Kuzin turned to Oleg Sienko with an official letter where they asked to «provide opportunity of long-term cooperation with Uraltransmash plant with subordination to A.D. Nosov and provide opportunity to make a vehicle». The document included the diplomas and promised that the responsible officer – Maxim Kuzin would move to Yekaterinburg. In late December 2013, it was decided to do a project to a specific date – July 9, 2014, when Innoprom should be held.

«iPhone» on Rails

Work on the project was planned by days, but the last two months they still had to work 16 hours a day and seven days a week. OKB Atom headed by Maxim Kuzin launched in February, was responsible for the design and engineering of the tram, Maslov Laboratory was responsible for branding and corporate identity. «Alexey immediately had the idea that the cabin of the tram should be tilted forward,» – Yaroslav Rassadin says, who participated in the work on the sketch. Technical basis for the tram was of that low-floor 71-409 – R1 has its tram chassis.

It’s completely Russian development, they insist in UVZ and Atom, while not denying that the foreign components were used in the tram. For example, the interior was made in Austria, some parts were made in Switzerland and Germany, Maxim says. Special story is related to the tram doors: Uraltransmash had no developments allowing us to produce doors conceived by Maslov and Kuzin, so we had to look for a foreign manufacturer.

«I chose about 30 companies and wrote them like «Hi guys, we’re doing a project of super tram, but we have a tight schedule. We need to make such a door, here is its 3D-model and the idea of how it can be built. Do not send it to anyone please. It would be cool if you could help, goodbye,» – Kuzin says, rolling away in a chair to the middle of the room, gesticulating and again returning to the table. The next day, three companies replied – two formally and with a large number of questions, and the third, from Austria, in the same style: «Hi, Maxim, probably cool tram. We will be happy to join in and do everything you need, just give us a little time». Austrians have fulfilled most of the engineering before the contract was signed and delivered the door to the plant before receiving payment – we didn’t manage to do it in a different way. General Director of Uraltransmash, Alexey Nosov was surprised with such approach to work, but supported the guys.

The experts estimated the cost of developing of 20-30 million rubles, but the guys say: because of the tight deadlines, R1 was cost more. «Any concept costs at least 2 times more than mass production model. I think, the project was cost exactly not cheaper than 1.5 million euros,» – Dmitry Nazarov, art director of Ippiart studio, says, engaged in industrial design of transport means. The trams will be sold at 40-50 million rubles, depending on the configuration.

Two weeks before Innoprom, the project was close to disruption. We worked at the booth, assembled the tram, Maslov recalls, and at some point of time, the stack of glasses began to fall on Kuzin. «Production of these glasses takes a few months – if they had broken, the project would have failed. But Maxim managed catch these glasses near the floor – steel ring, which he always wore, bent under their weight». Kuzin shows a slightly bent ring – now a valuable memory.

«The project of R1 tram showed that the corporation is ready to produce competitive trams for the Russian cities,» – says Oleg Sienko. UVZ really managed to declare itself: according to media monitoring system Medialogy, the number of mentions of Uralvagonzavod in the media increased after Innoprom from 1,650 in June to nearly 5,600 in July.

The question is in the other issue: will UVZ change the infrastructure of the cities? There already were Russian concepts that promised to conquer the world: race cars of Marussia Motors closed in 2014 or revolutionary project of Yo-mobil sold by the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov for 1 euro. At UVZ, they are sure that R1 does not repeat the fate of these projects, because it was created at the plant and not from scratch. «If we can make one good product, it means that we able to go into a series,» – Alexey Nosov says. The representatives of Mosgortrans (Moscow City Transport) who saw the tram at the exhibition, are more reserved in the estimates. According to them, it is too early to make predictions: we do not even have a prototype that would pass the tests.

Work on a prototype at Atom is scheduled for November of this year, and by the end of 2015-th – to go in mass production. «To do this, we will need to complete production lines at UVZ and probably deploy an additional assembly workshop near Moscow. I look forward to fully recoup the investment in the project by the sale of 50 cars. Possible contract with Yekaterinburg – a letter of intent has already been signed – shall cover these investments and even make a profit,» – Maxim says smiling and again rolling back in his chair to the center of the room.

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