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Israeli entrepreneur and former SAP executive Shai Agassi on Monday launched his much-anticipated electric-car project with the formation of Project Better Place, an entity focused on developing an electric vehicle that he said would be cheaper to use, conveniently chargeable and, above all, friendlier for the environment.
"It's a very exciting day, we hope this project will be the future of transportation," Agassi said at a press conference in New York as he announced an initial financing of $200 million to transform countries from oil-based transportation to electric vehicles through an electric recharge grid infrastructure.
Agassi, 39, will serve as CEO of the new entity, while Idan Ofer, chairman of Israel Corp., which in August said it would invest $100m. into the project in exchange for one-third of the rights, will serve as chairman.
While research on an electric-car prototype for the project was conducted in Israel, the final prototype did not include any of the locally generated findings.
According to Agassi, the company will deploy the regional and global infrastructure to support electric vehicles on a country by country basis, and Project Better Place will establish a widespread grid of electric charging spots at current parking locations as well as battery exchange stations through software systems integration.
These capabilities will provide consumers with the energy to keep their cars charged and driving without the need to wait for electricity at any point. The new grid presents a practical solution to address barriers to electric vehicle adoption.
"Our global economy urgently needs an environmentally clean and sustainable approach to energy and transportation. We need to rethink how to bring together consumers, existing technology, and the entire car eco-system to establish the next generation infrastructure that provides energy for commuters and is not dependent on liquid fuels," said Agassi. "We have crossed a historic threshold where electricity and batteries provide a cheaper alternative for consumers. Existing technology, coupled with the right business model and a scaleable infrastructure can provide an immediate solution and significantly decrease carbon emissions."
The company has entered into a term sheet for its first round of funding in the amount of $200 million with the investments from Israel Corp., as well as from Morgan Stanley, VantagePoint Venture Partners, and a group of individual private investors managed by Michael Granoff, which includes James Wolfensohn, Edgar Bronfman, Sr. and Musea Ventures.
"Project Better Place offers a compelling business and environmental case for how to address global energy and transportation challenges. We now have 700 million cars driving on the world's roads annually, emitting 2.8 billion tons of CO2," said Ofer. "The tailpipe problem has always been the most challenging wedge of the climate change problem that humanity has to solve. Under Shai's leadership, this project has the promise to stimulate the largest blue ocean economic opportunity in the history of capitalism, with our children as its greatest beneficiary."
In phase one, Project Better Place will focus on establishing a repeatable framework, implementing electric recharge grids through local operating companies in multiple countries. In addition, the company will secure partnerships with a supply chain of car makers, technology providers, and global and local financing institutions.
The company is currently in discussions with various governments, with a green-orientation, to establish pilot sites, with plans to begin rollout of the new infrastructure in early 2008.
The business model for the electric cars will be similar to that used by mobile phone operators.
"In the same way that wireless operators deploy a network of cell towers to provide an area of mobile phone coverage, Project Better Place will establish a network of charging spots and battery exchange stations to provide ubiquitous access to electricity to power electric vehicles," said Agassi.
The company will partner with car makers and source batteries so that consumers who subscribe to the network can get subsidized vehicles that are cheaper to buy and operate than today's fuel-based cars.
"Consumers will still own their cars and will have multiple car models to choose from." Agassi said.
Project Better Place will deploy and test this framework over the next 24 months in a variety of launch markets, after which it plans to deploy hundreds of thousands of vehicles annually, across multiple markets. The company anticipates achieving tipping-point saturation in early markets within 10 years of rollout.
"We are running out of resources of all levels on this planet. We are digging deeper and deeper to find more oil, more people die everyday of emissions, we are running out of climatic resources as well and most of all we are running out of time," Agassi said.
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