Tel Aviv Unveils Electric Car (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. At first glance it looks like a standard Renault Megane sedan: silvery exterior, four doors, automatic transmission. But there is no exhaust pipe, and an electric socket has replaced the fuel intake tank. The engine is running so silently one might wonder if it is still there. Press down on the accelerator, and the car shoots forward, capable of going zero to 60 mph (96 kph) in 8 seconds - not with a roar, but with a barely perceptible whirring sound. That's because instead of an internal combustion engine it has an electric motor run by a battery. The global debut of the prototype of the first electric car intended for mass marketing was unveiled in Tel Aviv on May 11 by Project Better Place (PBP). The California-based company, headed by Israeli-American entrepreneur Shai Agassi, has set itself the goal of getting zero-emissions cars on the world's roads as quickly as possible. It is now in the initial stages of implementing a pilot plan to introduce electric vehicles to a significant portion of the Israeli market - the first such consumer pilot in the world. (See "Israel Plugs Into the Electric Car," February 18, 2008.) PBP's Israeli subsidiary, Better Place Israel (BPI), is working in partnership with Renault-Nissan. Renault manufactures the cars in Europe, Nissan builds the batteries in the Far East, and BPI creates and maintains the battery-recharging grid in Israel. Inspired by the mobile-telephone industry, BPI is conducting feasibility studies for deploying a grid of more than half a million battery-charging locations and 150 to 200 battery-exchange stations across the country. The cost of constructing and operating the infrastructure is estimated at $200 million. The Renault-Nissan alli- ance is expected to invest $500 million to $1 billion over the next three years to develop the electric cars. BPI is counting on tax reductions on clean-emissions vehicles offered by the Israeli government, coupled with the comparative savings afforded by using electricity instead of gasoline in an era in which a barrel of oil costs more than $120. Company officials told The Report they expect tax breaks to reduce the cost of a typical electric car to 70,000 shekels ($20,000) compared to 120,000 shekels ($34,000) for a comparable gas- or diesel-run car. They hope consumer market sales can begin in early 2010. The battery range of the electric car displayed in Tel Aviv is limited to 200 kilometers (125 miles), and it may require up to five hours to recharge a completely emptied battery. PBP's solution to this limitation is the establishment of battery exchange stations, facilities that resemble car washes, where for a monthly subscriber fee customers of PBP will have their empty batteries replaced within minutes with fully-charged ones. Each lithium-ion battery costs $10,000 to $15,000 - most of the cost of the car - and weighs 200 kilograms (440 pounds). The CEO of BPI, former IDF deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, stated at a press conference introducing the electric car prototype that the company has been encouraged by surveys it commissioned in February on Israeli motoring habits. "Israelis on average drive less than 100 kilometers [62 miles] per day," says Kaplinsky. Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.