Fortum buys Plugsurfing to charge its electric vehicle ambition

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Fortum headquarters in Espoo, Finland August 18, 2017. REUTERS/Lefteris Karagiannopoulos/File Photo

OSLO (Reuters) - Finland's Fortum FORTUM.HE is expanding its electric vehicle charging business by acquiring Plugsurfing, a German charging and payment services provider present in 24 European countries, the firm said on Tuesday.

The acquisition was the latest in a string of deals by cash-rich Fortum to create a European charging network for the rapidly growing electric vehicle (EV) market.

Fortum’s own Charge and Drive unit has a customer base of 75,000 cars in the Nordic region, its main market, and adding Plugsurfing’s 50,000-strong user base is a significant step for the firm’s European ambitions.

“Τhe Nordic charging network of Charge & Drive will be available on the Plugsurfing application for access and payment,” Rami Syvari, the Fortum unit’s vice president said in a statement.

The Finnish firm’s largest single-country market so far is Norway, where more than half of all newly purchased cars in 2017 were either hybrid or electric, but as the EV market grows in Europe, so do Fortum’s ambitions.

Last year, the company signed at least six different deals across Europe, extending access for its cloud-based charging services to a total of 17 countries so far, including Britain and Poland, before the Plugsurfing takeover.

The value of the transaction was not disclosed, but expanding in the charging market could be among the alternative ways for Fortum to invest unspent cash from its recent unsuccessful takeover bid for Germany's Uniper UN01.DE.

From a total bid of 8.05 billion euros ($10 billion), Fortum spent less than half, as only about 47 percent of Uniper’s shares were offered to the Finns.

Fortum’s chief executive last week told Reuters the firm would seek alternative investments. Following the outcome of the Uniper bid, Fortum announced acquisitions of three Latvian district heat producers.

Editing by Terje Solsvik