Billionaire Bollore backs off electric-car ambitions

Mr Vincent Bollore acknowledges his battery company, Blue Solutions, is not competitive on prices when it comes to mass production.
Mr Vincent Bollore acknowledges his battery company, Blue Solutions, is not competitive on prices when it comes to mass production.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Vincent Bollore will focus his battery business on buses, services and stationary storage

Mr Vincent Bollore, the French billionaire who helped build Paris' auto-sharing network as well as one in Singapore, is backing off on ambitions for his electric cars to compete with models from Volkswagen or Renault.

"With individual cars, it's going to be complicated," he said as he presented a rare customer win for his autos while preparing to offer an exit to investors in his struggling battery venture. "We are competitive on services, on safety, but not on prices when it comes to mass production."

Instead, he is focusing his battery business, Blue Solutions, on buses, services and stationary storage rather than cars for individuals.

Its lithium metal polymer batteries have proved impractical for private cars because they consume electricity even when the vehicles are not running - meaning they have to stay plugged in for long periods.

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Four years after Blue Solutions began trading on the stock market, investors have become increasingly sceptical about its technology.

Last month, Mr Bollore offered to buy back the stock, which had lost more than three-quarters of its value since July 2014.

Investors will be able to sell their shares this year and, in three years, at €17 a piece. Blue Solutions is 90 per cent-owned by the billionaire's holding company, Bollore.

"When we started, we were almost alone," Mr Bollore told reporters. "Now, everyone makes electric cars and we aren't competitive compared with immense brands."

Blue Solutions is on track to miss targets, including a goal to produce about 6,000 batteries a year for buses, cars and storage by the end of this year. It sold fewer than 2,500 batteries last year and operating losses reached about €250 million (S$380 million), including expenses for research and development on buses and tramways, he said.

Mr Bollore, who invested more than €2 billion to develop the technology, says the company is working on improvements to the batteries.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'Billionaire Bollore backs off electric-car ambitions'. Print Edition | Subscribe