INTERVIEW-African electric car team in Asia funding drive


* African developer Optimal Energy seeking $1 bln

* Says China, Korea and India automakers interested

* Optimal eyes annual production of 50,000 by 2015

* Says step up in production would create 8,000-12,000 jobs

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Developers of Africa's first all-electric car are courting top Asian auto companies to raise close to $1 billion and boost production to 50,000 units a year by 2015, an executive said on Friday.

The five-seater multi-purpose Joule launched at the Paris Motor Show in 2008. It is being developed mainly for the international market by privately owned South African company Optimal Energy.

"We've gone to Korea, China and India to major car manufacturers. There is a lot of interest," Optimal Energy Chief Executive Kobus Meiring told Reuters. He did not want to name any potential partners.

"To go into high-volume production you need about 7 billion rand ($973 million), which includes setting up a plant," said Meiring, adding 8,000-12,000 jobs could be created.

The company has a plant in South Africa's automotive hub of East London, but it can only make 1,000 cars a year, too few for commercial success.

Africa's largest economy has identified green industries as one of its key focus areas of growth, and Meiring felt the Joule, supported by 150 million rand in government funding, was a prime example to boost technology and innovation.

"It's an opportunity for South Africa for the first time in 100 years to become the owner of an automotive brand and how this rubs off on everything," said Meiring.

The Joule, driven by rechargeable lithium ion batteries, would use a normal 220 volt home outlet to power up. It will have a range of about 300 kilometres and top speed 140 kph.

It is aimed at urban car users and will compete with other top manufacturers, such as Toyota (7203.T), that have invested heavily to encourage green motoring among drivers worried about high fuel costs, harmful emissions and global warming.

"All of the market information we have today says that the UK and Europe will be the first electric vehicle markets, with China catching up soon," Meiring said. More than 80 percent of Joules made are destined for export.

Meiring said the Joule would cost local customers in the region of 240,000 rand at today's prices. Europeans would pay about 21,000 euros ($28,470).

($1=7.194 Rand)

($1=.7375 Euro)

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by David Hulmes)



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