Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Russia’s Eco Car

Russia is joining the “green” automobile movement with an entry to be produced by Yarovit Motors, who specialize in manufacturing heavy-duty trucks, and bankrolled by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who’s probably best known in the United States as the possible future owner of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. The goal of the joint venture is to produce a small, affordable and ecologically-friendly “city” car for the Russian domestic auto market.

Unlike most of the other entries in the green auto market, which are electric or gas-electric hybrids, the Prokhorov-Yarovit entry will run on natural gas. Andrey Biryukov, the President of Yarovit motors makes a good point to RussiaToday – while plug-in electric cars are touted as having no impact on the environment, the electricity that flows into them has to come from somewhere, and usually that means burning coal or oil to produce the power to charge their batteries. So until more renewable sources of electricity production are added into the power grid, plug-in electrics will just change the location of where fossil fuels are burned, rather than eliminating their use.

The problem though with using natural gas to power automobiles is that there’s not an infrastructure of fueling stations in place like there is for gasoline or electric-powered vehicles. If people can’t easily refuel their cars from a large, widespread network of fueling stations, they’re not likely to buy them. There was no mention in the RussiaToday piece about building a network of natural gas fueling stations as well as part of the Prokhorov-Yarovit plan.

If the project gets rolling, Prokhorov-Yarovit plans to build about 10,000 cars per year using outsourced components. They then have an innovative idea to franchise the full construction of automobiles out to their various sub-contractors, hoping to lower the cost of the vehicles by building them in a number of sites spread throughout the country, lowering transportation costs of completed vehicles in the process.
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