French specialist coachbuilder Heuliez plans to start building its own electric car, the Friendly, this summer before launching it across Europe early in 2010.

The company is currently establishing a distribution network will include the UK.

The Friendly is a three-seater with the driver sitting centrally so there is no issue over left- or right-hand drive versions, sales and marketing director Christophe Cairoli said in Geneva.

The Friendly will be built on the line currently being used for production of the Vauxhall/Opel Tigra Twin Top. That contract ends in July and leaves Heuliez with the capacity to build 20,000 vehicles a year at its plant in western France.

Heuliez has been developing electric vehicles since the 1980s and built more than 6,400 electric cars for PSA Peugeot Citroen in the 1990s.

Cairoli likens the modern car to a Swiss Army knife. “It’s expensive for what you need and you only need all of its capabilities for about 20 days a year when on holiday and driving long distances. Consumers are beginning to understand that argument,” he said.

“For the other 345 days an electric car is adequate,” he said. “Especially when it has a range of up to 270km and a two-hour recharging time.”

The Friendly will come with the choice of three modular battery packs which give a range of between 80 km and 270 km with prices starting from around EUR15,000.

Heuliez wants to have its dealer network in place by 1 July, said Cairoli.