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Making Electric Cars Practical

New infrastructure may help launch electric cars in Israel and Denmark. Pictured is Renault Z17, a possible candidate for both Israeli and Dane electric car programs.

Published: 31-Mar-2008

A new approach to selling and recharging electric cars could overcome some of the basic issues that have kept them from being widely adopted. A startup called Project Better Place, which had the largest of any venture-funding round in 2007, raising $200 million, recently announced plans to install recharging infrastructure in Israel and Denmark and to sell electric cars using a business model much like that used today with cell phones.

The company aims to address two limitations of electric vehicles: their range is considerably less than gasoline-powered cars, and the batteries take hours to recharge from ordinary outlets. To solve the first problem, says CEO and founder Shai Agassi, Project Better Place is installing a vast grid of outlets at parking spaces throughout the country, which will allow drivers to keep batteries topped off during the day. In Israel, the company will install 500,000 outlets--one for every six parking spaces in the country--with a similar number slated for Denmark.

To address the time that it takes to recharge batteries, the company has arranged for the automaker Renault to manufacture electric cars with batteries that can easily be swapped out. The cars will have more than a hundred miles of range, which is more than enough for most daily driving. On long trips, once a battery is depleted, a driver will be able to pull into a station where a simple robotic system will remove the depleted battery and install a fully charged one. The process will only take a couple of minutes, Agassi says. The company will build 125 such stations in Israel and slightly more in Denmark.

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