February 3, 2017 / 4:18 PM / 10 months ago

Swatch CEO says car battery certification 2-3 years away

ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swatch-backed car battery developed by research firm Belenos will take another two to three years to certify, Swatch Chief Executive Nick Hayek said in an interview with broadcaster SRF on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Swatch Group Chief Executive Officer Nick Hayek wears sunglasses during the Swiss watchmaker's annual news conference in Biel, Switzerland March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/File Photo

“We’re in the process of putting a prototype into operation in Itingen, Basel, where we’ll test the first batteries with our Chinese partner Geely [GEELY.UL] for the mobility of their cars,” Hayek said in a television interview released the day after the Swiss watchmaker’s full-year results.

“But it will take another two to three years until we receive the necessary certification.”

Hayek in recent years had announced he was taking Swatch in a new direction, launching a battery for electric vehicles with the goal of reaching sales of $10-15 billion by 2020. But investors have called the plan expensive and unrealistic.

Hayek said the research firm, established by his late father in 2008 as Belenos Clean Power Holding, in which Swatch holds a 51 percent stake, was using the same technology to engineer batteries for small devices such as e-bikes, drones and watches.

“It will proceed a lot faster there,” he said. “We have partners, including ones in Switzerland, with whom we’re already testing the (smaller device) batteries in some cases.”

On Thursday, Swatch cut its dividend after weak sales and high fixed costs at the world’s biggest watchmaker drove annual profit sharply lower, although it held out the prospect of a return to “healthy growth” this year.

Hayek in the interview said opportunities - including the possibility that more U.S. industrial jobs might lead to higher middle-class income - this year outweighed risks.

The watchmaker hasn’t cut jobs in its factories or moved production facilities abroad despite years of pressure on the Swiss watch industry, he said.

“We’re keeping our people,” Hayek sad. “We accept a little bit less profit. But then we’ve got our people on board, and they’re motivated. That’s our philosophy.”

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Mark Potter

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