Russia’s second richest man, billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov, has joined an exclusive club of wealthy movers and shakers who have invested in the green car movement. Prokhorov, who is the major owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, unveiled the first Russian hybrid vehicle, the Yo, this week in Moscow.
Looking somewhat like large toy cars, the three prototypes shown—a two-door car, a minivan and a small cargo van—are touted as being the world’s first natural gas hybrid electric vehicles. The Yo’s drivetrain is a series hybrid design that operates with two small electric motors, a bank of capacitors and a small engine that can burn either gasoline or natural gas. The engine operates almost continuously, generating electricity that powers the motors directly or charges the capacitors that discharge energy for start-and-stop city driving.
Noteworthy, and perhaps suspect, the internal combustion engine is a “rotary vane” type. Rather than move up and down as in a conventional engine, the pistons move in a circular arc. The advantage of this design is there are few moving parts resulting in a smooth operation.
During the press introduction, engineers said that at around 67 miles per gallon, the Yo delivers better fuel economy than the Toyota Prius (51 mpg) and has a range of 680 miles when both its natural gas and gasoline tanks are filled. The fuel mileage is due in part because the car is lightweight and also because of the unusual engine. According to Yo chief engineer, Andrei G. Ginzberg, the engine is a Soviet-legacy design that had limited use in Germany in the 1930s but was then cast off, except in the Soviet Union. Soviet scientists continued to work on it at a secret laboratory in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk but it was never commercialized.
Rotary vanes are actually an old technology that was patented in 1874. It is used today in automobile superchargers, power steering and transmission pumps.
Mr. Prokhorov is the sole investor of the hybrid car project. An initial investment of about $200 million will be made in a new Russian company called ë-Mobile, which will also manufacture the Yo in a venture with St. Petersburg carmaker Yarovit-Motors. Production is expected in mid-2012 and most of the components will be from Russia or the former Soviet Union. With a selling price of $14,500, the group forecasts 10,000 units annually, which is about 0.5% of Russia’s 2010 new car sales.
As for the name Yo, it’s how the letter “e” is pronounced in Russian. To the Russian ear it suggests something obscene, but a spokesman said, “We have no problems with that—everyone interprets it as he pleases.”
We hope that Mr. Prokhorov’s newest investment fares better than his ownership of the Nets, who have won only six games so far this season. But hey, that’s already showing an improvement over last year’s season record of 12 wins and 70 losses.