Tag Archives: Daimler

On Shai Agassi and Better Place

Shai Agassi

In May of 2007, Shai Agassi launched Project Better Place. He had no cars, no test sites, no electrical engineering experience, and no automobile experience. All he had was a vision of an electric automobile charging infrastructure that would allow EVs to finally proliferate. By early summer of this year, Agassi had two countries volunteering for the plan, a major automaker, Renault/Nissan, producing cars, and $200 million in committed capital. Better Place has become the fifth largest startup ever created.

Agassi did not work alone. Shimon Peres, now the president of Isreal, called Agassi in the middle of the night a few years ago, convincing him to leave his position at SAP and make his electric car dream a reality. Most startups test their product before they make any big releases. Better World’s beta tester happens to be the nation of Isreal. Since it is small, and surrounded by water on one side and enemies on the other, the farthest someone can drive is about 250 miles in any direction. Peres helped reduce the car tax from 78 percent to 10 percent on zero-emission vehicles. Agassi posits that the tax revenue loss of $700 million would be more than refunded in money saved from importing less foreign oil. In January 2008, the Israeli government announced its support for a broad effort to promote the use of electric cars with Project Better Place.

Next, Agassi needed someone to build the car. While still working at SAP, Agassi met Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan and Renault. Ghosn was looking for a way to beat other auto companies in the race to provide a gas alternative automobile. Well, now that Agassi had a country willing to provide a grid and $200 million raised to fund the project, Renault hopped on board. Agassi promises 50 Renault prototypes this winter in Isreal and Renault promises to have an electric car on the market by 2011. Better Place hopes to have 100,000 vehicles operating by the end of 2011. And these are going to be highway speed EV’s that will be indiscernible aesthetically and performance wise from regular, internal combustion vehicles. Better Place’s first prototype is a 2005 Renault Megane:
Better Place Renault

Agassi will not disclose the other automakers he is currently in talks with, but Daimler is rumored to be talking with Better Place.

The company plans to implement the project in Denmark as well, where they are working on a partnership with Danish oil firm and utility DONG Energy. Denmark produces more energy than it needs, with 18% coming from wind. So they are actually giving away their access power to Germany and Sweden. What electric cars and charging stations provide, is a way to utilize and store this access power.

Agassi is also working to implement the project in the US, in Hawaii, which spends $62 billion importing oil to the islands. Hawaii’s business and political leaders seem sold on the idea, and just want to know if they are making electric convertibles.

[Source: WIRED MAGAZINE: 16.09, Driven: Shai Agassi’s Audacious Plan to Put Electric Cars on the Road]

My opinion, Shai is a great salesman with a noble dream. The only holdup to his plan is the one he unsuccessfully tried to explain to Kansas senator Sam Brownback by stating, “We’re like AT&T, not Nokia.” I’m not a cell phone expert, but I believe what he was trying to say with this analogy is that Better Place is more of a subscription service, than a simple, pay-as-you-go deal. The infrastructure must be in place before the cars can be used. To clarify, this was after Brownback asked Shai if he could buy one of the electric cars. The charging grid in the US would be at least a hundred billion dollars to create. But it could be just the type of massive workforce mobilization the economy needs to get out of this recession. I think he is going to need a lot more help from the US government and auto manufacturers; and GM still isn’t softening up to the idea. Either way, he is generating a lot of buzz for electric cars with one prototype and a vision.

Electric Smart Car by 2010!

Smart Car

Undoubtedly you’ve seen these things on the road by now. They’re not the fastest, or sexiest, or roomiest cars, but they are flying off the dealership lots in the U.S. Soaring gas prices coupled with a reasonable price between $11,000 and $18,000 have made these cars the popular choice for those who aren’t ready to take the plunge into the expensive hybrid market. Now Daimler plans to include the Smart Car in its new line of electric vehicles. This announcement came just weeks after Daimler bought batteries from Tesla in “a small deal that could potentially lead to a very big deal.” I’ll go on the record to say the Electric Smart car will be an incredible hit in the U.S. The Smart Car is the ideal size for an electric motor, not much larger than a golf cart. With the lower power requirement, the price of the electric version should not be bad at all. Mark my words, this will be big if it stays around $20,000.