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Pininfarina Bluecar EV on track for 2011 launch

Going blue: The plug-in Pininfarina Bluecar is a joint venture between the famous Italian design house and French battery company Bollore.

More than 6000 orders in the bank for hi-tech Pininfarina electric car

15 Oct 2009

ITALIAN design house and contract vehicle manufacturer Pininfarina is on track to bring its full-electric Bluecar to market in 2011.

Developed in collaboration with the French Bollore Group, the Bluecar was first shown at the Paris motor show in October 2008 and has since attracted more than 6000 orders ahead of its European launch, according to Pininfarina chief executive Silvio Angori.

Rumours have surfaced in recent weeks that Pininfarina and Bollore, whose subsidiary Batscap has developed the hi-tech lithium metal polymer batteries used in the Bluecar, could part ways before the vehicle hits the road after the French government announced a €1.5 billion ($A2.4b) EV incentive program, while the Bluecar deal stipulates manufacturing by Pininfarina in Italy.

In response, Mr Angori told Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 that the Bollore Group had reaffirmed its commitment to the 50:50 joint-venture program and that the French incentives could encourage the Italian government to respond with its own inducements.

He also said that both Pininfarina and Bollore had separate strategies for offering their individual expertise to other car-makers once the Bluecar was launched – design and specialist manufacturing being the obvious area for the famous Italian firm, while the French group has widespread expertise in supercapacitor and battery development and production.

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“I can imagine that Bollore is being asked what is the point to produce the car in Italy as in France it can take advantage of incentives,” Mr Angori told Il Sole 24. “We would like similar initiatives in Italy (and) the question there appears to be on the agenda. It is therefore likely to create an asymmetry of market power by imposing grounds for reflection.

“The joint-venture between us and Bollore aims to develop and produce the Bluecar, then each of us has also its own strategies.

“Bollore is probably interested in offering its battery to the world while we design electric cars for other manufacturers. After efforts to achieve Bluecar, which will arrive on the market in 2011 and has already received more than 6000 reservations, perhaps exclusivity is no longer necessary.”

The high-performance battery pack is claimed to enable the Bluecar to reach a maximum speed of 130km/h and offer a range of 250km. According to Bollore, the lithium metal polymer battery stores five times more energy than a “traditional type” and recharges via a normal domestic power outlet in “just a few hours”.

Housed below the floorpan and between the two axles, the battery does not require maintenance but has a lifespan of about 200,000km.

The vehicle is also fitted with a bank of Bollore-developed supercapacitors that retrieves and stores energy generated during regenerative braking and makes it available when the vehicle restarts. This is said to improve acceleration (“in line with that of internal combustion vehicles in the same B/C segment”) as well as increase the driving range and lengthen the lifespan of the battery.

As seen on the Prius III petrol-electric hybrid, solar panels cover part of the Bluecar’s body surface to help power some of the onboard equipment. According to Pininfarina, Bollore is also looking into the design of photovoltaic cell panels to be installed in private or public places to allow partial or total recharging of the batteries through solar energy alone.

The first production run of the Bluecar is expected to begin late in 2010. Production on an “industrial scale” is scheduled to take place between 2011 and 2017, with the forecast output by 2015 being 60,000 units.

The Bluecar seats five and is designed as a compact people-mover rather than a small hatch or sedan.

In a move that will see more funds invested in the Bluecar program, Pininfarina signed a preliminary contract last week to sell one of its production plants – a facility in Grugliasco, Italy – for €15 million ($A24.4) to FinPiemonte-Partecipazioni, a finance company controlled by the Piedmont Regional Administration.

It also announced a related deal with Innovation in Auto Industry (IAI) for the sale of “certain business operations” related to the Grugliasco plant, which currently produces bodies-in-white for the Alfa Romeo Brera and Spider and Ford’s Focus Coupe-Cabriolet. The factory also paints the vehicles before being sent to other facilities for final assembly.

Under the agreement, IAI will purchasing Pininfarina’s tooling and contracts for the 900 workers at the Grugliasco plant for €2 million ($A3.3m).

The deal is due to be finalised before the end of this year.

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