Shai Agassi on Electric Cars

One of my favorite sessions at the recent Web 2.0 summit was Tim’s half-hour conversation with Shai Agassi, the CEO of Better Place. Better Place aims to make electric cars widespread (“the electric car as the de facto standard”) by addressing major issues that have held back electric vehicles: affordability and convenience.

In a relaxed conversation with Tim, Shai described an electric car industry that resembles the mobile phone business. Just as telecom companies sell mobile handsets at a discount if one is willing to commit to a contract, their subscription-based model will allow consumers to purchase an electric car at the fraction of the normal price. Car owners will pay additional fees based on the amount of miles they drive and the type of car they choose to own. To support their subscribers, Better Place will also build extensive networks of charging spots and battery exchange stations. They will build the first “Electric Recharge Grids” in Israel and Denmark.

Prior to starting Better Place, Shai was a president at software vendor SAP. The interview briefly touches on IT and enterprise computing.

[NOTE: Web 2.0 summit videos are available on YouTube.]

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  • http://www.theenergyroadmap.com/ Garry Golden

    I really enjoyed this conversation! Thank you for putting it up on YouTube.

    It was wonderful to see a very forward looking conversation about how electric vehicles are likely to have different models of building, selling, upgrading and fueling cars. Sadly most public conversations to date have been mere extrapolations of the present day models. Shai understands the potential of new biz models!

    I thought Tim led a great interview- and have been a fan of Shai’s for sometime now. This is a wonderfully nuanced conversation! Thanks!!

    Garry Golden
    Editor
    The Energy Roadmap.com
    http://www.theenergyroadmap.com

  • http://www.theenergyroadmap.com/ Garry Golden

    I really enjoyed this conversation! Thank you for putting it up on YouTube.

    It was wonderful to see a very forward looking conversation about how electric vehicles are likely to have different models of building, selling, upgrading and fueling cars. Sadly most public conversations to date have been mere extrapolations of the present day models. Shai understands the potential of new biz models!

    I thought Tim led a great interview- and have been a fan of Shai’s for sometime now. This is a wonderfully nuanced conversation! Thanks!!

    We wrote a post on our site looking at implications of this model moving beyond batteries to include solid state H2 as we hit performance/cost limits of lithium ions.
    http://tinyurl.com/6hb7nj

    Garry Golden
    Editor
    The Energy Roadmap.com
    http://www.theenergyroadmap.com

  • Practical

    But why charge a battery?

    The quickest way to have a car ready for long road is to exchange an empty battery with a full battery!

    Like any electrical appliances…

    • http://radar.oreilly.com/ben/ Ben Lorica

      @Practical,

      Better Place will allow you do just that: car owners can drive to one of many charging spots and battery exchange stations in their Electric Recharge Grid and swap batteries. According to Shai, the experience will be similar to driving through a car wash. In fact, they have it down so that the battery swap takes less time than the time it will take you to fill your tank with gas.

      Ben

  • http://www.tangerinesmash.com/ Andrew

    Maybe energy producers should team up with car manufacturers?

    Suppose someone like E.ON teamed up with Toyota/Honda to give discounted electricity & cars for people willing to drive electric.

    You’d need some infrastructure in place to make it work: places you could recharge or drop in depleted batteries etc. but they’d sell more energy, and the car manufacturers would probably sell more electric cars.

    If it started to take off, the technology to take it mass-market would catch up very quickly.

    It would also have the benefit of not needing to have Government backing. If is was a private-sector initiative it would be of financial beneficial for both sides.

    • http://radar.oreilly.com/ben/ Ben Lorica

      @Andrew,

      Good points. What you’ve described is similar to what Better Place is attempting to do. They are an infrastructure project in that they are committing to build extensive networks of charging spots and battery exchange stations (“Electric Recharge Grids”). They price electric cars at a discount because they are really selling you miles: in essence you buy the car but not the battery.

      As Shai points out in the video, they think the economics of their business model work. I don’t think you even need to have discounts on electricity because it’s already competitive with gasoline. But to quickly deploy a scheme like theirs on a large-scale, public policy initiatives are needed. As an example, both Israel and Denmark have committed to imposing sales taxes that would encourage consumers to purchase electric over gas powered vehicles.

      Ben

  • http://zapworld.com/electric-vehicles/electric-cars/xebra-sedan Xebra

    The business model seems quite sound; it will be interesting to see how Israel and Denmark’s networks shape up and work. If this enables more EVs to be on the road, it should get every encouragement from the government.

  • http://ic-pod.typepad.com/design_at_the_edge/ Jim Rait

    But what if the answer is “Not a Car”?
    Are we asking the right question?

  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-tucker Diane Tucker

    Time magazine “Hero of the Planet” Bill McDonough spoke with me about Shai Agassi and his electric car concept. Here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/8v4eta

  • http://none Ivaylo

    Great talk, graat info.
    My only concern. People love their cars. People love that they can have a 500hp car, a 80hp car, a small car, big car, one brand or the other, ’89 Saab 900 or ’08 S500. Somehow I (and maybe other people) see the electric cars as not very powerful and choice limited. I mean we really need to change the stereotype of the electric cars – there have to be many different models – aggressive and powerfull, tiny and economic, elegant and whatever, so that people don’t feel like making a compromise when choosing to switch to an electric car.
    And something that nobody talks about – electric motorcycles. I see an electric Harley with hollow cans, the V engine, the hidden battery and some hi-fi speakers for the engine sound. :)
    All I’m trying to say is – most people don’t care about the enviroment – they care about themselves and themselves only, that they should feel good, so make them want badly and electric car – give them something that a gasoline car does not have – and not just in terms of economy or enviroment.
    My 2c.:)

  • http://www.alternativeenergynewswire.com/ Green Machine42

    I wouldn’t wait around for the “Big Three” to actually build a viable automobile that runs solely on electric power. The “Evil Three” go hand in hand with the big oil bankers.

    Maybe Shai Agassi will come out with an affordable electric car in the near future.

    I would however, take a serious look at smaller companies that have developed some very exciting alternative energy technology.

    Wheego Electric Cars, a division of RTEV, is officially launching its U.S. dealer network. The first car will be the Wheego Whip, which is most certainly not a smart fortwo, and the plan is to find 50 dealers in America who want to sell them. Wheego has an exciting line of electric cars that I’d like to see on the roads very soon. The following article has more info on these great electric cars: http://www.alternativeenergynewswire.com/electric-cars#electric-ca