French billionaire joins charge on car batteries
By Marcel Michelson
ERGUE-GABERIC, France (Reuters) - Billionaire corporate raider turned ecology activist Vincent Bollore on Thursday opened a factory to produce supercapacitators that can be used for electric cars that could fill the streets from Tokyo to Turin.
The 36 million euro ($52.8 million) factory, on the site of a family's paper business started in 1822, will produce 100,000 supercapacitators -- electric energy storage elements -- per year, and production can be ramped up quickly. It is close to a plant that makes 10,000 lithium-metal-polymer batteries a year.
Investments in the project so far total at least 250 million euros, Bollore said during a trip to the site.
"When we started some 14 years ago with the idea of an electric car, everybody laughed at us," Bollore said at the family manor where the factory inauguration was celebrated. "But now everybody talks about electric cars, but we are the only ones with a battery!" he said.
The batteries made here do not have any liquid and are not flammable as other types of batteries under development for electric cars, he said.
The BatScap plant is a joint venture between Bollore Group and state-controlled power utility EDF. The super-capacitors -- energy storage devices -- it produces can be used in electric cars and hybrid vehicles.
Bollore and EDF are already developing their own electric car, the BlueCar.
Bollore announced he had signed a contract with Continental AG to supply 100,000 supercapacitator modules for BMW cars.
Bollore, who also owns the Direct Soir newspaper and Direct8 television channel, is a close friend of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The timing looks fortuitous, with oil about $90 a barrel and car groups such as General Motors Corp, Toyota Motor Corp, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault switching to electric cars from hybrids which they build on a small scale.
For Bollore, who has large stakes in media group Havas and media buying firm Aegis Group Plc, batteries are about business, not just about saving the globe.
"We want to help reduce CO2 emissions, but it is also a business with relatively interesting profit margins," said Cedric Bollore, a cousin and company director.
BATTERY MAKERS BLOOM
In December, Bollore sealed a joint venture deal with Italian car design group Pininfarina to put a four-seater electric car on the market by the summer of 2009.
Cedric Bollore said on Thursday Pininfarina would produce cars from 2009 and, from 2012, at a rate of 15,000 cars per year.
He said the cars would be available via the Internet for a lease of 500 euros per month and would target densely populated centers such as Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and San Francisco.
BatScap is not the only firm working on batteries or electric vehicles.
Renault on Monday signed a deal for the mass production of electric cars for Israel using a battery developed by Japan's NEC Corp and Nissan Motor Co Ltd.
Spain and Portugal last week launched the Mobi-Green project for a green vehicle running on fuel cells or an electric engine.
And at the Detroit Motor Show earlier this month, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said the automaker would market a fleet of rechargeable vehicles by the end of 2010 and was building a factory for next-generation lithium-ion batteries.
Johnson Controls Inc and France's Saft Groupe SA also signed a deal to provide batteries for hybrid cars to China's SAIC Motor Corp.
The big difference between a hybrid and an electric vehicle is that the latter has no combustion engine. But that raises questions about the distance a car can run before it needs recharging, and about speed.
The BlueCar, a concept which has been presented at several European autoshows, can run 250 km (155.3 miles) between charges, has a top speed of 125 km per hour and can accelerate from zero to 60 km per hour in 6.3 seconds.
(Editing by Suzy Valentine, editing by Richard Chang)