Shai Agassi: Electric Evangelist

I mentioned Shai Agassi a while ago, which lead the Economist to run an article on him. They call him an electric evangelist, which suggests they don’t really believe he can do what he promises (it’s actually much worse: everyone knows evangelists are full of b-s).

More interestingly, they describe what Agassi’s firm (Better Place) has set out to do, why they might fail, and what Agassi himself thinks of the critique:

Better Place’s business model involves selling electric cars (provided by its partner, Renault-Nissan) using a scheme borrowed from the mobile-telecoms industry—charging not by the minute, but by the kilometre. Customers will be able to pay as they go or sign up for a contract that includes a certain number of kilometres. They will even get a subsidised car if they subscribe to big enough packages, just as mobile operators subsidise handsets for their highest-paying customers. Better Place will build networks of recharging points, plus battery-swapping stations along motorways that will, in effect, enable customers to recharge their cars in minutes in order to travel further than the 160km (100-mile) range of their cars’ battery packs.


Some sceptics say consumers will prefer to buy electric cars that plug into ordinary electric sockets than to be “locked in” to an operator of recharging points. Even if Better Place can build its networks, say others, it will not be profitable for years because the infrastructure is so expensive (its battery-swapping stations cost $500,000 each). The latest electric-car designs distribute batteries around the body to improve handling—an approach that is incompatible with Better Place’s battery-swapping stations. And won’t customers want to own, rather than borrow, the batteries in their cars?


Electric cars’ inherent drawbacks, says Mr Agassi, will not vanish soon: batteries are expensive, and they cannot be charged in the time it takes to fill a tank unless there is a power station next to each charging point. Only when the battery is physically and economically separate from the vehicle, he insists, will electric cars be cheap and convenient enough for the mass market. “Better Place will succeed”, says Mr Agassi, “because I have seen no other viable plan for getting the world off its dependency on oil.” All he needs to do now is prove he is right.

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