Electric Evangelist – Can Shai Agassi of Better Place, An Electric-Car Company, Honour His Grand Promises?

The Economist, May 2, 2009.

Shai Agassi has an idea that would radically alter the automotive industry: he’s leading the “re”-charge of the electric car. Electric cars have been around for years; however they have neither been cheap enough nor convenient enough for the mass market. So, Agassi has developed a systems integration solution for the problem. His insight is to physically separate the battery from the car, thereby allowing a network of battery swapping stations to service a fleet of electric vehicles.

This idea requires integrating the operations of the fleet; swappable batteries, recharging points, electrical utilities and billing systems. Customers can use their electric car on a payas- you-go basis where they are charged by distance rather than by day. Drivers can even get a subsidised car by purchasing a subscription with sufficient kilometres, in a similiar way to how high-use mobile phone customers are offered handsets by operators keen to reward them for their business.

Agassi devised this concept at a workshop at the World Economic Forum where participants were asked to come up with a scheme to make the world a better place. His business is now – fittingly – called ‘Better Place’ and in just 18 months has already raised more than US$300 million from investors. The Economist reports that Better Place has signed deals with local and national governments in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Hawaii, Israel, and Japan.

Agassi’s business model is based on the premise that electricity is cheaper than fossil fuels. Furthermore, with smart use of energy the battery swapping stations can recharge batteries at night, when electricity demand is lowest. Better Place is positioned to be a viable path to reducing our oil dependence.

Agassi has been likened to Apple computer founder, Steve Jobs, because he has the charisma and a “reality-distortion field” to make his futuristic vision seem possible to others. His vision for Better Place could transform transportation as we know it.

For the full article: www.economist.com/people/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13570470

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