Sunday, May 1, 2011

Will Israel's Electric Cars Change the World? Or is Better Place's goal just another pipe dream?

Shai Agassi, the founder of Better Place, the most sophisticated electric-car enterprise in the world, projects the ebullient confidence of a man facing a giant wave of money. "Within less than this decade the No. 1–selling car in the world will be the electric car," he says. "It's the biggest financial opportunity the world has ever seen. We're seeing a $10 trillion shift in an industry in less than a decade. It's the Internet, and add another zero."

In the introduction to Start-Up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer's best-selling paean to Israeli innovation, Agassi was the soft-spoken software wiz who had a brilliant idea and a terrible time locating a backer. That doesn't seem to be a problem anymore. "Not when you've digitized the most expensive molecule on the planet," he says. "We've digitized oil." He pauses. "I'll put it this way: We have people from China here."

The People's Republic has been busy creating a bourgeoisie, and the middle class does like to drive. Beijing's next five-year plan foresees at least 170 million new vehicles, or perhaps twice that, according to Agassi. The lower estimate alone is as many cars as there are in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain combined. The 8 million barrels of oil that would be required every day to fuel them is about as much as the U.S. imports every day. "Do you know what the price of oil will be in five years if they're not using electric cars?" Agassi asks. (read more)