French billionaire joins charge on car batteries

ERGUE-GABERIC, France, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Billionaire corporate raider turned ecology activist Vincent Bollore on Thursday opened a factory to produce batteries for electric cars that could be flooding cities from Tokyo to Turin.

The factory, on the site of a family’s paper business started in 1822, will produce 10,000 lithium-metal-polymer batteries a year and cost 36 million euros ($52.8 million), taking investment in the project to 250 million euros, Bollore said during a press trip to the site.

The BatScap plant is a joint venture between Bollore Group BOLL.PA and state-controlled power utility EDF EDF.PA. 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 CONG.DE to supply 100,000 modules for BMW BMWG.DE 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 GM.N, Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T, PSA Peugeot Citroen PEUP.PA and Renault RENA.PA switching to electric cars from hybrids which they build on a small scale.

For Bollore, who has large stakes in media group Havas EURC.PA and media buying firm Aegis Group Plc AEGS.L, batteries are about business, not just about saving the globe.


In December, Bollore sealed a joint venture deal with Italian car design group Pininfarina PNNI.MI to put a four-seater electric car on the market by the summer of 2009.

Cedric Bollore, Bollore’s cousin, 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 by lease at 500 euros per month and would target densely populated centres such as Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and San Francisco.

“It will be a second or a third car. It’s not aimed at people with a modest revenue but it helps to reduce CO2,” Cedric Bollore told reporters.

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 6701.T and Nissan Motor Co Ltd 7201.T.

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 firm 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 JCI.N and France's Saft Groupe SA S1A.PA also signed a deal to provide batteries for hybrid cars to China's SAIC Motor Corp 600104.SS.

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)