A decision on who will be awarded the design for the prototype of the electric car that entrepreneur Shai Agassi hopes will dominate Israeli roads is expected within the next two weeks, but the deal may slip through the fingers of local designers, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
"We're fighting tooth and nail to keep the project here, but we may lose it to California," a source close to the project told the Post, citing the higher costs of development in Israel. "Duties of 100% on components we bring in and higher tax rates hurt our ability to compete."
After hearing of Agassi's expressed hopes of ridding Israel's dependency on Arab oil within 10 years, the source's group approached Agassi with a proposal to develop a new prototype for an electric vehicle. After getting an initial go-ahead, his group has been "doing everything that doesn't cost anything" as it awaits a final decision on the award so it can receive the funding and advance the process.
While the one-time prototype development is worth just $1 million, the overall project of testing and proving the vehicles in Israel could be worth up to $10 billion annually. The country's position as the likely first market for the new vehicles, however, does not appear to be in jeopardy.
"There's been some talk of Singapore, but really Israel is the ideal location for the car, given the size of the country, the speed of drivers and the types of distances traveled," the source said, adding that it is highly likely Israel will be the ultimate testing ground regardless of who builds the prototype.
While talk of electric vehicles has been around for years and hybrid cars are already traveling Israel's roads, recent and ongoing advances in the batteries used in the cars are now making the vehicles more feasible.
"Our goal is to reach about 200 kilometers of travel on a single charge. We're at about 120," the source said.
The lithium ion batteries can either be recharged overnight in a slow-charge at home or in 15 minutes at commercial charging stations that would be built around the country at costs substantially below that of a gasoline fill-up.
Demand for the cars here is expected to be about 40,000 annually out of a total vehicle demand of 150,000.
Meanwhile, a plan to reduce air pollution from road transportation that includes setting an official policy toward electric vehicles within one year is in an advanced stage of preparation. The plan is being drafted by the National Infrastructure and Environmental Protection ministries.
An meeting set to include National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra is scheduled for September 9.