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Swatch mulls IPO for EV battery unit as VW scandal boosts interest

ZURICH (Bloomberg) -- Swatch Group AG CEO Nick Hayek said he's considering an initial public offering for the clean-power unit that builds batteries for electric cars as the Volkswagen scandal boosts interest in energy-efficient technology.

Belenos Clean Power, which is controlled by Swatch and its founding family, has developed the battery with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the CEO said in an interview Wednesday.

The board of the venture, whose shareholders include actor George Clooney, Deutsche Bank AG and its former chairman, Josef Ackermann, is discussing whether to list a 20 percent stake, Hayek said.

Volkswagen's diesel emissions violations are spurring interest in makers of batteries for electric vehicles. Executives at VW have said they plan a shift to more plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles after the controversy broke out last month.

Swatch's CEO said Belenos's technology has applications in cars, drones, electric bikes and scooters.

"I'm not happy about what happened with VW, but it is fueling the interest in us, since diesel is not the alternative anymore," Hayek said, speaking at Swatch's headquarters in Biel. "The car industry needs electro-mobility more than ever."

Patented compound

Companies from China, Korea and Germany have shown interest in the batteries, Hayek said. Belenos makes them using a patented compound containing a metal called vanadium rather than rare raw materials, making them cheaper to produce in mass quantities, Hayek said.

The venture has about 50 employees and Hayek declined to give any financial details.

Belenos can produce a battery that weighs about a third less than the Panasonic pack used in vehicles made by Tesla Motors Inc., Hayek said. Yet a car could run further on the Belenos battery, which charges twice as fast, according to the CEO.

A spokeswoman for Tesla in Europe referred a request for comment to the carmaker's U.S. headquarters.

Swatch will begin production in June through its Renata unit, which makes batteries for timepieces. Initially Renata will produce as many as 200 a day, in various sizes. The technology will be used and tested in e-bikes, drones and electrical scooters in 2016, and it'll be ready for cars from 2017, Hayek said.

Nicolas Hayek Sr., Swatch's former chairman, helped design the tiny two-seater Smart car and later formed Belenos in 2008 as part of his side interest in developing a vehicle that would pollute less.

The venture made headlines as the watchmaker named Clooney and Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier to its board.

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