Will Better Place's Electric Cars Change the World ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Time has a look at the prospects for Better Place's electric vehicle rollout - Will Israel's Electric Cars Change the World?.

Shai Agassi, the founder of Better Place, the most sophisticated electric-car enterprise in the world, projects the ebullient confidence of a man facing a giant wave of money. "Within less than this decade the No. 1–selling car in the world will be the electric car," he says. "It's the biggest financial opportunity the world has ever seen. We're seeing a $10 trillion shift in an industry in less than a decade. It's the Internet, and add another zero."

In the introduction to Start-Up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer's best-selling paean to Israeli innovation, Agassi was the soft-spoken software wiz who had a brilliant idea and a terrible time locating a backer. That doesn't seem to be a problem anymore. "Not when you've digitized the most expensive molecule on the planet," he says. "We've digitized oil." He pauses. "I'll put it this way: We have people from China here." (Read about how China can take the wheel on electric cars.)

The People's Republic has been busy creating a bourgeoisie, and the middle class does like to drive. Beijing's next five-year plan foresees at least 170 million new vehicles, or perhaps twice that, according to Agassi. The lower estimate alone is as many cars as there are in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain combined. The 8 million barrels of oil that would be required every day to fuel them is about as much as the U.S. imports every day. "Do you know what the price of oil will be in five years if they're not using electric cars?" Agassi asks.

Enter Better Place, the start-up that makes more than electric cars. It also makes an entire infrastructure intended to free automobiles from the stubborn limits of battery life. When the enterprise launches in Israel later this year, drivers should be able to travel anywhere in the country in cars with a battery range of 100 miles (160 km). If they set off from Tel Aviv to the Red Sea, a journey of 200 miles (320 km), they will be able to pull into a Better Place station along the highway and exchange their low battery for a fully charged one. The process should take about five minutes. Otherwise, the car can recharge overnight via a plug that snaps into the little door above the rear wheel where gas would go if the car burned gas. The vehicles can also trickle charge in parking lots where the company's distinctive blue-topped posts are located.

Everything you need to know — the locations of switch stations and charging posts, the number of motorists already there, your own distance from each — is visible on a dashboard GPS screen. Employees have been testing the system for weeks, seeing, for instance, how much juice it takes to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with a car full of fat people, a carload of skinny people or just a car. By July, Better Place expects to begin taking individual orders for the Turkish-made Renault Fluence Z.E. (for Zero Emission), a four-door sedan that looks like any other car. Ordinary Israelis could be driving them as early as November.

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