Mikhail Prokhorov already has proven that he can jump through hoops, making a splash in the world of American professional hoops with his ownership of the NBA's New Jersey Nets team. Now, he wants to show the world that he’s got electric-car chops as well.
The Russian billionaire has just unveiled the Yo, a hybrid of electric and gasoline and natural-gas powertrains that he maintains will get Prius-beating mileage and yet demonstrate as much range as the most indefatigable American-built SUV.
The name, notes the New York Times, refers to the Russian letter “ë,” and it can use either gasoline or natural gas to generate its electric power.
Billed as the world's first natural gas hybrid electric vehicle, the Yo will be built by a new Russian firm (e-Auto) and operate with two small electric motors and a small engine that can burn either gasoline or natural gas. They will come in three models — sedan, sporty and a small truck.
Put all that together, Prokhorov says, and you’ve got a vehicle that will achieve fuel economy of 67 miles per gallon, post top speeds of 80 miles an hour, and yet be able to trek on for 680 miles if both its gasoline and natural-gas tanks are filled.
There are plenty of reasons for skepticism that the Yo will succeed, beginning with its projected price when it goes on sale in Russia in mid-2012 of about $14,500 – a premium sticker in that market.
Add to that the unimpeachable vulnerability of Russian-developed high technology since Sputnik, which over the last half-century has included a clunker’s parade of bad conventional automobiles.
“Don’t forget that in Russia we were the first to put man in space,” Prokhorov said at a media event to unveil Yo prototypes.
The Yo would take advantage of Russia’s ample supplies of natural gas, a gift of nature that the United States also enjoys – and which is prompting American automakers also to look more seriously at natural gas as a propellant of mainstream vehicles.
But the biggest reason to believe in prospects for the Yo might be Prokhorov himself.
The entrepreneur started out in banking and metals (as a Siberian mining entrepreneur), and now he’s writing paychecks to a losing NBA team as its majority shareholder. As he looks to crack the electric car market, clearly he loves a challenge.