Robzuk - as far as I know, the lack of Nivas in the US is 100% political: Nivas started production in 78/79 - not exactly the best time for US/Russian relations. Worse, and please dont take it personal, US opinion of Russian stuff is pretty low...in many cases its pretty well deserved, but the Niva is maybe the exception that proves the rule. If you will, its the same thing German imports went through after WWII, and that Asian imports went through in the '70's.
For those interested, I know of a handful of nivas LEGALLY imported into the US in the past 4-5 years. They're now considered a legal import, but are classed as 'special interest vehicles', and its a slow process, that varies state-to-state. interestingly, there's a DMV code in California for them now - go figure, they actually passed CARB testing, emissions, etc!!
FWIW, officially, Lada never even imported into Canada as the market was too small. A Canadian entepeneur was interested, set up 'Lada Canada', and imported them privately. Frankly, it was a 1/2 assed affair, and the corporate entity wasnt interested in dealing with 'minor' things like warranty issues. in 1997, when the models changed, and they would have had to invest big $$$ to get the new ones certified here, the company closed up. Fortunately, most owners bought them specifically because they're simple, and the parts are all metric standard, so lack of dealers hasnt killed them all.
These new models, along with the Autovas/GM deal are a corporate attempt at multinational marketing. With luck, what they'll do is start the process in coutries that have traditionally had good sales, and will move into 'new' markets like Canda, and the US later.
91 Niva 'Cossack', MB 240D, 4 speed auto, ~88:1 low, 30x9's, coil sprung, 830 RTI.