Shai Agassi: Electric Car Visionary

The genius of Agassi's proposal is the battery-switching station.

Published: 13-Dec-2008

Even in countries that tax gasoline much more heavily than the United States, the alternative of electric cars has had little success. The limited range of electric batteries and the hassle of getting them recharged have kept electric cars out of the mainstream.

Now a California company has a plan to change all that. Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, has persuaded three countries, Hawaii, and the San Francisco Bay area to buy into his ambitious vision of an electric-car infrastructure. He calls for a system of ubiquitous plug-in charging points as well as roadside stations, much like gas stations, where motorists can switch fully-charged batteries for their depleted ones in three minutes. Agassi's plan was more appealing when gasoline cost more than $4 a gallon, but it still deserves a hearing by the incoming Obama administration. Here in Massachusetts, state officials are exploring the plan's potential, both within the state and as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative of 10 Northeastern states.

The genius of Agassi's proposal is the battery-switching station. With a dense network of these, electric cars could go from serving just as limited-range commuting vehicles to all-purpose family transportation. As part of Agassi's project, Renault-Nissan will produce electric car models whose batteries will be able to go more than 100 miles between charges, according to a Better Place spokesman.


Ray Lane, managing partner of venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins, Caufield and Byers, which has invested in Think, believes Think could eventually sell as many as 30,000 to 50,000 City cars a year.

The production electric vehicle to be introduced in 2010 will have a unique bodystyle and is not based on any existing Nissan model, unlike the technology 'mule' pictured above.

The 100-mile range electric car has been operating with Japanese power companies for the last two years.


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