SMEs launch electric car push
Geneva - Small and mid-sized firms are jumping into the electric vehicle market in Europe, hoping that their niche product and the buzz surrounding green cars generated by major automakers would help propel their success.
Most of them have been around for just five or six years, and count just a handful of employees.
Lumeneo, a French company based close to Paris, is a case in point.
"The idea is to build very small cars to resolve parking problems in town and it's because of the size constraint that we decided on the electric car," said its marketing director Xavier Moulene at the Geneva Motor Show.
The company, which has a factory in eastern France's Vosges, has developed a small two-seater measuring 2.5m long and is showing its future four-seater at the car show, which opens on Thursday to the public.
The firm has just begun production and "we hope that next year we will build between 500 and 600," said Moulene.
Another French firm, Volteis, had a similar story.
Founded in 2009, the firm has gone into the niche market with a small electric jeep. It has already sold 180 units and is looking to move 200 this year.
Its clients include hotels and car rental firms in Mauritius or Seychelles, as well as wine-growers, said its marketing director Jean-Noel Peysson, adding that 60 percent of its customers are individuals, with companies making up the rest.
Beyond France, Italy, Austria aand Switzerland also count several small electric vehicle set-ups.
But these firms admit it is not easy to start up in the sector, and many need state support to stay alive, particularly in their first years.
Another French firm, Mia electric, said that it benefitted from several programmes, including free parking or easy access to the city centre, said Edwin Kohl, who heads the firm.
With an annual production capacity of 12 000 vehicles and 350 employees, it is already among the bigger players. But like the rest of the fledgling carmakers, it is still not making money with its electric vehicles.
Most firms are hoping to break even when their factories are running at full capacity.
Meanwhile they are financing their developments with investors' funds or through other businesses.
Italy's Belumbury, for instance, which began by making electric cars, is now also building vehicles that run on petrol.
"The Italian market for electric cars is small," said its chief buyer Alessandro Galli.
And while the firms do not consider themselves as competitors of the major groups like Nissan, Toyota or GM, they feel that they are benefitting from the publicity generated by these giants on such green vehicles.
"They are good competitors," said Moulene.