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Killing the Gas Guzzlers in Australia

The startup Better Place plans to build an electric-car network down under.
October 24, 2008

Better Place (formerly Project Better Place), a company that plans to develop electric-car infrastructures for Israel and Denmark, has now announced plans to do the same in a much bigger country: Australia. The plan is to eventually make it unnecessary for Australia to import any oil.

If it succeeds there, the company’s model could work in parts of the United States, too, such as the West Coast or the cities from Boston to Washington on the East Coast.

Better Place has proposed ways to overcome the limitations of today’s technology for electric vehicles–namely, the cost and recharge times of batteries. To keep down initial costs for customers, the company plans to sell cars in much the way that mobile-phone companies sell phones: with a subsidized low cost and a monthly plan. For the cars, the plan will pay for miles of driving, not minutes of talk time. The company also plans to install networks of charging stations, so that drivers can keep their cars topped off during the day, and battery swap stations along highways, where drivers can exchange a depleted battery for a charged one on long trips.

The plan seemed to make sense for Israel and Denmark, relatively small countries where such networks could be easily installed and where government policies heavily favor electric cars. But Better Place’s CEO, Shai Agassi, has said that it could work in the United States as well. (See this video.) Rather than connect the whole country, however, the plan would be to connect certain urban centers, such as those from Boston to Washington, DC, or from Los Angeles to Seattle. Government policies would still be needed to make the plan economical.

In the announcement of the Australia deal, Agassi emphasized that if the system can work in Australia, which has more car ownership per capita than the United States, it could work in the United States.

Not everyone is so optimistic.

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