One of Russia’s wealthiest men, Mikhail D. Prokhorov, is pouring 150 million (about $200 million) into the new ë-Auto company bringing the first domestically produced hybrid electric vehicles to Russia. The vehicle’s name is the Russian letter ë, pronounced “Yo” in English. In an innovative new step, the car can use both gasoline and natural gas to generate its electric power, and it comes with onboard tanks for both types of fuel.
Prokhorov said the vehicles, powered by gasoline, natural gas and electricity are “socially important products” for Russia. He hopes they will help “overcome existing stereotypes” about Russia’s ability to innovate.
At the media event unveiling three Yo prototypes, Prokhorov said the idea behind the Yo has the potential to be a really great development for Russia.
The Yo is different from other hybrid vehicles because the small petroleum engine that burns either gasoline or natural gas can run nearly continuously to generate the electricity for the two electric motors that propel the vehicle. Instead of charging a battery, as the Toyota Prius and many other hybrid vehicles do, the generator in the Yo powers the motors directly or fills a bank of capacitors that holds only small charges necessary for powering the engine when stopping and starting.
According to the Yo’s engineers, the vehicle will have a fuel economy of about 67 miles per gallon, better than some other hybrids, in part because it is lighter and has a lower top speed, modest horsepower and an unusual engine. The rotary vane engine is a Soviet-era legacy design, so the pistons move in a circular motion. Scientists in Russia have been perfecting this engine in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk for years, but the Yo vehicles are the first to widely commercialize the design. In addition, the driving range of the Yo is expected to be about 680 miles when both its natural gas and gasoline tanks are filled.
The basic model Yo is expected to go on sale in Russia in mid-2012 and cost about $14,500. Prokhorov noted that Russia’s leaders have been pressuring the wealthy businessmen in Russia to help the country diversify its economy away from oil by investing in advanced technology. He hopes that the Yo is a step in that direction.
“For the time being, Russia lacks value-added goods,” Prokhorov said. “That is why cars are very important. This project for us is very important, to give the world a value-added product made in Russia.”