Tycoon delays Russia's first hybrid car launch until 2015
By Dmitry Zaks, AFP
September 5, 2012, 12:09 am TWN
MOSCOW -- Tycoon and former Russian presidential hopeful Mikhail Prokhorov's auto division announced Monday it was delaying until early 2015 this year's promised launch of the country's first hybrid car.
But it also insisted that the colorful "Yo Mobiles" were never designed as a publicity stunt to win the politically ambitious metals and banking magnate votes in last spring's presidential elections.
"Many detractors will now say that this was just a Mikhail Prokhorov PR campaign," the project's general director Andrei Biryukov said after tendering his resignation because of the delay.
"But this is not the case and he continues to fund the joint venture," he told Russian news agencies.
Biryukov formally blamed the problem on an undisclosed U.S. supplier that was responsible for providing parts for the vehicle's four-wheel-drive models.
But several auto analysts said the announcement effectively burst Russia's hybrid dreams for the near future.
"The Yo Mobile is no more," the AvtoItogi.ru specialist website wrote.
"The future of Yo autos is in grave doubt," observers at CarTimes.ru said.
Others said Russians were foolish to believe Prokhorov was serious about the project from the start. Yo Mobile had promised to roll out its first units in December for just US$15,000 — a fraction of its main Asian rivals.
"Oddly enough, we did not hear a word about the Yo Mobile project — whose updates we got on a weekly basis during the campaign — from the day of the election until this week," the popular AvtoVzglyad.ru magazine wrote.
The eye-catching little vehicles were meant to give a fresh new look to Russian streets clogged with the last remnants of exhaust-fuming Soviet-era makes and huge SUVs and luxury sedans from the United States and Germany.
President Vladimir Putin drove one of the cars to a government meeting while serving as prime minister in April 2011 and joked that it did not look particularly sturdy.