Canadian electric vehicle maker Zenn Motor has claimed to be on the verge of a battery breakthrough that could drive it into the automotive big leagues, though not as a maker of electric cars.

Zenn now makes low speed electric vehicles, but in an apparent shift in strategy, chief executive Ian Clifford told Reuters, the company no longer plans to distribute or sell its own highway-capable electric vehicle, partly due to an increasingly competitive market. Priced around C$16,000, that car has a top speed of only 40km/h (25mph).

“The way things have really changed over the last year – there have been such dramatic shifts and focus on electric vehicles – it doesn’t make a lot of business sense for us to go into the distribution and sale of the vehicle,” he said.

Instead, Zenn thinks it has a better chance in mass markets by supplying auto equipment makers with an electric car drivetrain, which generates and delivers power.

Toronto-based Zenn is banking on EEStor, a low-profile, privately held US battery maker, to deliver technology that will make electric cars faster, more powerful and able to travel longer between charges.

Zenn has invested $7.5m in EEStor and has a 10.7% stake in the company which, so far, has met three of the four contract milestones tied to Zenn’s funding.

Clifford told Reuters the final milestone was the ultimate proof point: delivery of a production-ready energy storage unit, or battery, that meets precise criteria.

The battery promises to power a car up to 400km (250 miles) at speeds of up to 125 km/h (80 mph) on a five-minute charge.

“We are working on a daily basis with EEStor on this final milestone – this very, very critical milestone – because it takes us to commercial viability,” he said.

The problem is that Zenn has no say on when Texas-based EEStor must deliver the technology on which Zenn’s future hinges.

“I have faith,” said Clifford, who invested a windfall from an internet marketing business in Zenn. “You’ll see, as we announce things and position the launch of our solution, I think our direction will be very clear.”

While waiting on EEstor, Clifford is talking to auto equipment manufacturers about the planned drivetrain system for electric cars. Zenn has exclusive rights to sell EEStor technology for mid-sized vehicles weighing up to 1,400kg (3,086lb) and to retrofit any vehicles over one year old, Reuters reported.

Zenn will develop a ‘proof of concept’ highway-capable car that it can use as a demonstrator for carmakers.