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Dassault Group, the French aerospace and software giant, is seeking co-investment opportunities in Israel, while also examining possibilities in the country's electric car venture project.
"The electric car market is the future. We are studying the possibility of joint projects regarding development," Laurent Dassault, the company's vice chairman, told The Jerusalem Post in a rare interview at the France-Israel business forum in Jerusalem on Tuesday. "During the visit in Israel I met up with Idan Ofer [one of the main investors in the Israel electric car project] to discuss possibilities."
Dassault came to Israel this week as part of the business delegation accompanying French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Over the past year, the Dassault group had never slowed to respond to a technological revolution, Dassault said, and for years, it had the ambition to open up the electric vehicle market to private motorists.
Dassault and his father are involved in the development of a technically high-performing electric car in cooperation with Electricite de France (EDF), the country's main electricity operator.
During his three-day official visit to Israel, Sarkozy was given a presentation by President Shimon Peres, while personally test-driving the new electric car designed by French automaker Renault.
"We make planes. What we need is to find a carmaker," Dassault said. "Renault, though, preferred to sign up with Israel."
Under the plans of the electric car venture, Project Better Place, run by Shai Agassi and Ofer, chairman of the conglomerate Israel Corp., will sell electric cars and operate networks of charging locations in parking lots and garages. Test operations are expected to begin later this year or early next year, and organizers hope to have tens of thousands of electric cars operating in Israel in 2011. In addition, the government will offer tax incentives to purchasers.
"Israel is a small country but has a big market for cars, and I believe it is good place to test the new venture," Dassault said. "The idea is to make electric cars a viable alternative to today's vehicles. It's much like a mobile-phone carrier, selling cheap cars in packages that include monthly service fees."
Dassault said the main challenge of the project was to produce a car at a low price.
To develop investments in Israel, the Dassault Group last year joined Catalyst Fund, a private equity fund founded by Cukierman & Co. Investment House with $100 million under management. Dassault serves as the chairman of the advisory board of Catalyst Fund. According to Edouard Cukierman, managing partner of Catalyst Fund, Dassault is the second largest investor in the fund.
"We want to develop investments in Israel through a fund to examine direct co-investment opportunities," Dassault said.
The Dassault group, which owns Le Figaro, the French daily newspaper, also makes combat aircraft, including the Rafale and Mirage fighter, but it is relying increasingly on its Falcon business jets as demand for military aircraft has declined and oil prices are skyrocketing.
Beginning in 2009, the French aircraft maker is planning to increase Falcon production to 120 corporate jets a year to accommodate global demand. Estimates are that sales of private jets worldwide are forecast to double over the next decade, thanks to booming demand from newly minted Russian billionaires, Middle East sheikhs and other highfliers.