Editor's note: Through an ongoing partnership with Yale Environment360, The Daily Green is able to republish a portion of Jim Motavalli's latest piece published there.
Futurists have been talking about battery-powered electric cars for as long as there have been futurists. Weve had viable electric vehicles since before the turn of the last century New York City was plugging in taxis as early as 1897. Electric vehicles (EVs) offered serious competition to gasoline cars and trucks at least until the 1920s. Henry Ford was fascinated with them, and collaborated with his close friend Thomas Edison on an ultimately unsuccessful plan to bring one to market. Groundswells of interest in EVs arose in the late 1960s, in the early 1970s following the Arab oil embargo, and again when the Iranian oil spigot went dry after the 1979 revolution.
Now were all excited about EVs again. Nissan and Renault are gearing up to produce an electric sedan for the mass market by 2012. California-based Tesla Motors, though it has deep financial problems, is starting to roll $100,000 EVs down a production line. Electric versions of the BMW Mini and the Smart car are being tested. Start-ups Aptera and Fisker Automotive are exploring different corners of the market.
Despite all this activity, battery EVs wont become a mass-market phenomenon until and unless theres a standardized network of charging stations to plug them in. People will need to charge their EVs (which often have a range of 100 miles or less) at home, at work, and while out shopping, too. Carmakers have been wary of anything but small demonstration projects because that network didnt exist, and cities, states and countries are unlikely to commit millions to build such an infrastructure without readily available cars.
And thats where Israeli-born Shai Agassi and his company, Better Place, come in. They are promoting a vision of an electric transportation future that includes a widespread charging network, with battery exchange stations (where, for longer trips, depleted packs are exchanged for new ones in just a few minutes), and their auto-company partners are planning to produce the electric cars and trucks that will be plugged into those stations.
Agassi, a former software entrepreneur, has been traveling throughout the world, targeting what he calls transportation islands, either actual islands or densely packed urban areas with plentiful commuters in a small area. Hes signed up nations (Israel, Denmark, Japan, Australia), states (Hawaii) and even cities (San Francisco) as partners. In some, but not all of those locations, Better Place is cooperating with the Renault-Nissan Alliance.
Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom says that the Better Place initiative in the Bay Area is a three-city coalition including San Jose and Oakland, with all three municipalities agreeing to work together on a nine-point plan to offer tax credits, speed up permitting and offer other administrative support for electric vehicle infrastructure. What were doing, says Ballard, is taking a bet on the future, the idea that electric vehicles will replace fossil-fuel cars and trucks on the road.
Agassis model is not based on traditional car dealerships and repair stations. Instead, hes thinking about the cell-phone model, where the hand-held device is incidental to the deal customers make buying air time from a provider. ...
For the full story, see Yale Environment360.
Also check out Jim's recent feature, 22 Teams. One Automotive X Prize: The Race to Build a 100 MPG Car
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