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French Coup: Daimler to Build Electric Smart Car in France, Invest Millions

daimler-sarkozyDaimler AG (s DAI), as it closes in on the November start date for its initial run of electric vehicles — 1,000 Smart Fortwo minicars set to be built with Tesla Motors battery technology — is mapping out the road to large-scale production. The German automaker this morning announced that it will invest a “double-digit million euro amount” toward readying a plant in Hambach, France, for production of the electric Smart in 2012.

The French government — which last week unveiled a 14-point plan to accelerate development, production and sales of electric vehicles in the country — along with regional authorities will provide funding for 15 percent of Daimler’s project costs in Hambach.

The Hambach plant already produces Smart vehicles, and Daimler noted in its release this morning that integrating production of the electric version into the operation is a matter of “setting the course both for series production of electric vehicles and for the future” of the plant itself. The first electric Smart cars are scheduled to roll out to drivers for real-world testing by the end of 2009. If all goes according to plan, three years from now the lithium-ion battery-powered model will be just one more vehicle in Daimler’s portfolio.

Daimler isn’t the only automaker to score French support as President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government seeks to build up the nascent electric vehicle market. Last year Sarkozy endorsed a plan by French automaker Renault (half of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, which has a goal of dominating the global electric vehicle industry) to develop a massive electric vehicle infrastructure network and so-called “electric mobility operator” in partnership with French utility EDF. The group has plenty of shared interests, with the French government owning 85 percent of EDF and 15 percent of Renault.

Back in July, when Daimler finalized plans to build a lithium-ion battery plant in Kamenz, Germany, with Evonik Industries, the company’s Thomas Weber (who heads up Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development), said, “Even in a few years…many vehicles will have these ‘Made in Germany’ energy storage systems onboard.” But for the time being, Daimler’s electric offerings will be made in France.

Photo: Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of Daimler AG Board of Management and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Smart plant in Hambach, France, courtesy of Daimler