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Electrovaya and Exxon Mobil team up

Electrovaya (TSX: EFL), a small Mississauga, Ont.-based battery maker, has partneredwith oil giant Exxon Mobil to launch an electric car-sharing program. The venture is out of character for Exxon Mobil, which has long been derided by environmentalists for its global warming skepticism and commitment to a fossil fuel future, and a big win for Electrovaya: the companys share price closed yesterday at $1.20, up 60% from the day before. (It’s up 380% year-to-date.)
Electrovaya will launch 10 of its Maya 300 electric vehicles in Baltimore as part of the car-sharing program, allowing residents and tourists to zip around the city in an EV, albeit at low speeds. The vehicle frame is manufactured in China, but Electrovaya is responsible for the all-important lithium-ion battery pack. Exxon Mobil designed the separator film in the battery, which supposedly boosts its power and capacity. The oil company also put up US$500,000 for the program, and to establish an exhibit about clean transportation technologies at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.
The project is very small, and you have to wonder about how serious Exxon Mobil is about electric vehicles, and how much of this is an attempt to boost its image. The half million dollars the company is spending is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the US$45.2 billion in profit it made last year, but at least it provides good exposure for Electrovayas car.
The Maya 300 is designed to be a low-speed city vehicle, and it can travel up to 190 kilometres on a single charge. Its top speed can be regulated to either 40 or 56 kilometres per hour, depending on regulations. Electrovaya announced the creation of the Maya 300 back in January of last year (including the use of Exxon Mobil’s separator film), but this will be its first deployment in a fleet. The company is also launching a similar vehicle in Norway this September in partnership with Indian auto firm Tata Motors.
In North America, the Maya 300 faces stiff competition. The car is targeted at the more mature city vehicle market segment, and it looks expensive in comparison to other vehicles. Its base price is somewhere around US$25,000, whereas Toronto-based ZENN Motors low-speed electric car can sell for less than US$20,000.
Analysts were speculatingyesterday that the partnership with Exxon Mobil could be a precursor to the oil company investing in Electrovaya, although Tata could just as easily make a similar move, by that logic. Whatever happens, teaming up with battery makers could prove to be a smart decision for any company in the future. The battery is the major roadblock to the adoption of electric vehicles, and whichever firm figures out how to mass-produce batteries that are inexpensive, long-lasting and quickly rechargeable will find itself with a very lucrative product on its hands.