The head of Swatch, Nick Hayek, intends to use the company group’s subsidiaries Belenos and Renata to establish a second stream of income by developing electric cars with vanadium batteries. After many years of work, they are said to be tested soon in China. In summer 2015, Swatch had announced its decision to stop the development of fuel cell versions and transfer activities in this field to Groupe E based in Granges-Paccot, Switzerland. Hayek himself reportedly wanted to concentrate on electric vehicles instead.
In August 2007, his father, Nicolas G. Hayek – founder and then-board chair of Swatch – made public his intention to enter the car-making business. Known as the “Watch King” in his home country, he teamed up with Groupe E, a power company from western Switzerland, to build hydrogen cars (see HZwei issue from October 2007). This led to the creation of Belenos Clean Power based in the Swiss town of La Tène, with prominent people such as actor George Clooney and astronaut Claude Nicollier joining the ranks of the board of directors.
Hayek passed away in 2010 and it seemed as if Belenos would not survive. But this February, Hayek’s son said he was ready to start with the production of a growing number of battery cars in Itingen, Switzerland. “We will give electric transportation the big boost it needs,” he told Swiss business magazine Bilanz. His confidence stemmed from the company’s use of vanadium pentoxide, a material it had developed over the course of ten years. The business overseeing development and testing is Swatch’s Renata subsidiary.
The new vanadium battery seems to be a very promising advancement. It is reported to up power output by 30 per cent compared to currently available systems. Lifetime is said to double even and recharging was twice as fast as with conventional batteries, making for faster access to energy supply. The battery was also safer and did not require precious metals such as cobalt and nickel. Its main feature is the cathode, on which Belenos has 23 patents.
So far, so good – in theory. The first cars …
Groupe E is no longer involved in the project. The energy supplier returned its shares in Belenos while gaining the former company location in La Tène and keeping about a dozen employees. They are said to develop hydrogen cars as well as a network of H2 filing stations.