Ford Explorers in Russia

The first full-production Explorer rolled off the assembly line Thursday at Ford Sollers Elabuga assembly plant in Russia. (Ford Motor Co.)

Ford is headed to Mother Russia.

The American automaker announced Thursday that the first Explorer SUV built from the ground up outside of the U.S. rolled off the assembly line in Elabuga, Russia.

Previously, the Explorer was built in large chunks at Ford’s plant in Chicago, and then shipped to Russia for final assembly. Ford said the Chicago facility will continue to build Explorers for the U.S. market and for export to 64 countries.

The Russian-built Explorers are built by Ford Sollers, a joint venture between Ford and Sollers. Sollers is a Russian automotive company that collaborates with foreign vehicle manufacturers like Mazda, Toyota and Izuzu.

The expanding production at the Elabuga plant means Ford Sollers will add 500 employees to its 1,500-person workforce.

Russians have long been fans of SUVs, and they made up 31% of the Russian car sales market in 2012. Ford Sollers sold 400 Explorers in Russia in the month of February, according to Ford.

"Russia is on its way to being the largest market in Europe and presents an enormous opportunity for growth," said Ted Cannis, president and CEO of Ford Sollers. "We anticipate SUV sales to continue to grow."

Ford also said Explorer sales would begin soon in China.