Mikhail Prokhorov, the 39th richest man in the world, made his billions in finance and precious metal production. More recently, the businessman (and pal of Jay-Z) bought an 80% stake in the ailing New Jersey Nets basketball team. But dealing with a losing basketball team is easy compared to Prokhorov's latest venture. The billionaire is spending $198.4 million on building and selling a gasoline and electric hybrid car in Russia, a country that hasn't exactly embraced sustainable energy initiatives.
The ë-mobile (pronounced "Yo-mobile") two-door vehicle, which sources all of its parts from Russia and former Soviet Union nations, will cost approximately $10,000 when it is released in 2012. That's ultra-cheap for a hybrid, even if Prokhorov's prototype is more akin to a Pinto than a Tesla Roadster—and it has a loud engine, to boot. The car also has a top speed of 81 miles an hour (again, no Tesla) and a fuel efficiency of 67 miles per gallon.
The vehicle, a joint venture between Prokhorov's Onexim holding company and Russian truck producer Yarovit, won't rely on the non-existent Russian hybrid market for all of its sales; the ë-mobile will also be marketed in Europe, according to PhysOrg. Eventually, Prokhorov also plans on releasing a hybrid mini-van and cargo van based on the vehicle.
Will Prokhorov succeed? It's hard to say—no one with his clout has tried to sell a hybrid in Russia before. But consider: Part of Toyota's success with the Prius in the U.S. can undoubtedly be attributed to the company's perceived reliability in vehicle production. For all of his successful ventures, Prokhorov has no experience in the industry, and potential customers know it. If Prokhorov is to succeed, he will have to show that the vehicle isn't just the fanciful investment of a bored billionaire. He's got the Nets for that.