Canadian Electric Car Battery Plant Increases Capacity

Bollore Group, an electric-car battery maker, will invest $120 million in a battery-producing factory east of Montreal that will boost production to 15,000 annually.

BOUCHERVILLE, Que. (CP) -- A French billionaire who's in the thick of the global rush to bring affordable, reliable electric cars to the masses says he has the battery power to win the race.

Vincent Bollore announced Tuesday that his company, Bollore Group, will invest $120 million in a battery-producing factory east of Montreal.

The facility, purchased from Hydro-Quebec by Bollore in 2007, already churns out a few hundred electric-car power plants a year.

With this investment, he aims to boost production to 15,000 annually.

The batteries will be built using lithium-metal-polymer technology, which give his cars a range of 250 kilometres and a top speed of 130 km/hr.

He said his company is a leader in the technology.

"It's the first big factory in the world for (lithium-metal-polymer batteries)," he said.

Bollore said his product is safer than the lithium-ion batteries that major automakers, such as General Motors and Nissan, are counting on to propel their soon-to-be-released lines of electric cars.

Lithium-ion batteries, often used in laptops and mobile phones, have been known to overheat and even catch fire, he added.

"Such a technology is not good for a big quantity of energy," said Bollore, who indicates there's no overheating risk with his technology.

"For a car, of course, it would be very dangerous."

He plans to hire 200 new workers -- on top of the facility's 70 employees -- to build batteries for his company's electric car, BlueCar, and its 22-passenger Microbus. Both vehicles are produced in Italy.

Automakers around the globe are racing to advance technology to extend the range of electric vehicles and to lower the price.

At last month's Frankfurt auto show, almost every major carmaker unveiled an electrified vehicle.

The world's lithium-ion battery market is expected to surge from $31.9 million this year to $21.8 billion by 2015, according to business consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Bollore, listed by Forbes last year as worth an estimated US$1.4 billion, expects his cars to eventually be priced for the general public.

"It will be a popular car -- that's what I think, but time will tell," he said.

Industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers called the emerging global electric-car business one of the most exciting technology areas in the auto sector.

However, he warned that it's still at the "earliest of early stages."

"These initiatives and announcements are all breakthroughs but they're all very high risk," DesRosiers said of the electric-car industry Tuesday in a phone interview.

He indicated that electric cars could follow a similar path as the hybrid vehicle, which brought a lot of hype to the auto industry a decade ago.

"There's less than 100,000 (hybrids) on the road out of our 22 million vehicles -- 10 years after being in the marketplace and 10 years after being very big news," DesRosiers said.

Electric vehicles must have more range before they will be widely accepted by consumers, he added.

"As much as the electric vehicle is cutting edge and is exciting, there's a very, very long road ahead," he said.

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