Russia’s richest and most well-known oligarch has embarked on a new business venture: seeking to build and market the world’s most affordable hybrid vehicles. Mikhail Prokhorov’s ONEXIM investment group has reportedly invested €150 million in project, along with additional backing from the Russian government. The first car will begin testing in December, and is expected to hit roads in 2012 at a price that has been estimated in the $10,000-$13,000 range.
In May, Prokhorov gave the first details on the venture, which he says is based around the development of a hybrid platform that can run on either petroleum or liquified natural gas. The drivetrain will be adaptable for use in three vehicles: a truck, a sportscar, and an affordable city car that the tycoon promises will be “a multimedia center on wheels.”
“The auto industry is moving to simpler, greener cars,” said Prokhorov at the time. “These are as simple to assemble as toys, so our country has been given a chance to compete, because foreign carmakers will need time to adapt to this new trend.”
The bluster in Prokhorov’s awkwardly-translated statements shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen his 60 Minutes profile—which aired last year after he made headlines in the U.S. by purchasing the New Jersey Nets NBA franchise. Prokhorov is confident that his cars will be able to compete because of their blend of affordability and technological ambition—so confident in fact, that he seems to have nicknamed the city car after himself, calling it the “Mischa-Mobile.”
Next year, ONEXIM and its partner Yarovit Motors will begin renovations on a Yarovit facility in the former Russian automotive hub of Togliatti. That facility will be capable of producing 10,000 cars a year, but with the backing of the Russian government and one of the world’s richest men, it’s possible that additional capacity could be added as quickly as demand dictates. Prokhorov says that as sales numbers begin to approach 100,000 units a year, the price of the car may drop to as little as $7,000.
Hopefully, the engineers working on this project don’t share in Prokhorov’s assessment of how easy it is to build and design a new vehicle. Assuming the “Mischa-Mobile” does reach road-readiness though—and can be sold as cheaply as promised—its success should be interesting monitor in the coming years.