Israel enters electric car partnership

Partnership between Renault-Nissan Alliance, Israeli gov't should speed journey to an Israeli electric car.

At a conference a year ago, Shimon Peres, then vice premier in Ehud Olmert's cabinet, heard a charismatic young man named Shai Agassi, a member of the executive board of the German software giant SAP AG, give a talk on alternative, sustainable energy and how this would benefit Israel's environment. After a subsequent get-together had further fired Peres's enthusiasm, the two arranged to meet, in Davos, Switzerland, with Carlos Ghosn, legendary chairman of Renault and Nissan. But as Agassi recalled on Monday, Ghosn was delayed by a snow storm. "Just for once, I asked for a little global warming to melt the ice and the snow," Agassi confessed at a news conference at Beit Hanassi. But Ghosn made it in the end. And the end result was Monday's Beit Hanassi signing of a memorandum of understanding between Renault-Nissan and Project Better Place, a company established by Agassi in October, 2007, which should see the first electric cars running in Israel in 2011. Michael J. Granoff, of Maniv Energy Capital, was one of the first investors in the electric car project, and then introduced Agassi to Idan Ofer, chairman of the Israel Corporation, which has put up $100 million. Peres, who has championed government tax incentives to boost the venture, backs it in good part, he said, because it challenges the "effect of oil," which he called "the greatest polluter of our age" and "the greatest financier of terror." He also said "this enterprise will serve peace, because the Palestinians want to join in. It will provide 50,000 jobs, which is a direct contribution to peace." Ghosn praised Peres for having kept his promise to "do everything possible to make the project a reality." He added: "We are excited about this project and determined to make it a success in terms of mass market. This will mean a change across the planet." The new electric car will feature zero carbon and noise emissions, be priced no higher than the same model car with a gasoline engine, cost less to run and boast a lifetime warranty, said Ghosn. Initial production will be in Europe, because Renault-Nissan wants to concentrate on developing the battery there. But sufficient demand could merit the opening of a production plant here, he said. "We don't want to sell a hundred cars a year in Israel," said Ghosn. "We want to sell 10,000-20,000 plus." Alternative sources for energy were also discussed at the Herzliya Conference on Tuesday, where MK Ophir Pines-Paz, chairman of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, declared: "We have to make every effort to rid ourselves of dependency on petroleum energy, and we have to change our form of transport." Pines-Paz was critical of the government's failure to set targets related to global warming, and demanded "a change in the national agenda." Bjorn Lomborg, the controversial director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, countered that the consequences of climate change were often vastly exaggerated, and highlighted what he called its beneficial side. Heat would rise more in low temperature regions, he said, and so fewer people would die from cold - 20,000 fewer in the United Kingdom by 2050. "Cold is a bigger killer than heat around the world," Lomborg asserted. "We're being misled if we're only being told the bad parts about global warming... We need to get a sense of proportion."