Changing the Whole Auto Industry, Seriously?

Hey, Friday night, I saw Shai Agassi talking about what looks like very serious infrastructure for electric cars. His approach and company BetterPlace.com have plans for electric cars and what it takes to make it real.

Summary from DeutscheBank: Project Better Place's approach has "the potential to eliminate the gasoline engine altogether."

Looks like this has been vetted and has convinced the governments of Denmark, Israel and the state of California.

Here's something from Fortune:

As Congress considers bailing out a U.S. auto industry damaged by its dependence on fossil fuel-hogging SUVs, San Francisco Bay Area leaders on Thursday unveiled plans for a $1 billion regional network of charging stations for electric cars. Silicon Valley startup Better Place will construct the network, deploying thousands of chargers for electric cars on the streets of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. The cities will be linked by battery swapping stations so drivers can travel longer distances. Better Place, founded by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, previously struck deals with governments in Israel, Denmark and Australia to build electric car networks. This is the well-funded startup’s first move in the U.S. market. Construction on the Bay Area network will begin in 2010 with commercial rollout in 2012.


John Markoff at The New York Times seems convinced:

... [Agassi] has raised $200 million from private venture partners, including the Israel Corporation, a large Israeli transportation and technology holding company, Vantage Point Venture Partners, as well as a group of private investors including Edgar Bronfman Sr., the liquor magnate, and James D. Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank. Israel Corp.’s $100 million investment was announced earlier this year.


Jonathan Shapira gives us the gist from a DeutscheBank report, saying that Project Better Place has "the potential to eliminate the gasoline engine."

Deutsche Bank has reportedly sent analysts to look at Project Better Place's business plan and concluded that it could be a "paradigm shift" that causes "massive disruption" to the auto industry.

"We see a potential for a paradigm shift in the way vehicles are owned and fueled," the analysts wrote in the report ... "Looking at Better PLC's model, we conclude that a pure EV should not be more expensive than a gasoline/diesel vehicle."

According to the analysts, a typical contract would cost $550 a month and provide 18,000 miles a year. Project Better Place would run the charging infrastructure, allowing consumers to charge their batteries at home or at public charging stations.

Deutsche Bank found Project Better Place customers would pay 7 cents per mile for fuel, even after accounting for the cost of electricity and depreciation of the battery. That is very competitive when compared to the 24 cents per mile Europeans pay for gasoline and the 15 cents per mile Americans are paying (at $3 per gallon in a 20 mpg vehicle).

The report even goes so far as to say that Project Better Place's approach has "the potential to eliminate the gasoline engine altogether."


My 10 years in Detroit were on the computer and factory automation side of the auto industry. Two observations:

* There are a lot of people who know how to make stuff in Detroit, and wherever cars are made
* Entrenched power and mindset within Detroit leadership make it really tough for the auto industry, as a whole, to innovate.