Green Cars In The Desert


Forbes, 21st January 2008

By Melanie Lindner

Though it might be one of the tiniest nations on the planet, Israel's latest venture could make it a global leader in eco-friendly transportation.

Israeli government officials endorsed a plan on Monday by Renault -Nissan and the Silicon Valley-based startup Project Better Place to install the first electric car network in Israel by 2011. The plan calls for half a million recharging stations to be built in the time leading up to the deadline. While some are excited by the bold move against global warming and energy dependency, others are wary of the short time-frame for such large change and have expressed concern for much that could still go awry.

The plan was initiated by Shai Agassi, a former top executive at the German business services and software company, SAP. Agassi, a 39-year-old Israeli-American entrepreneur and technology expert, raised approximately $200.0 million to launch the electric car network under the slogan: "Transportation without fuel, making peace between transportation and the environment." Israeli officials have promised to provide tax incentives for those who use electric automobiles.

Israel was the ideal place to launch such an aggressive green venture due to its extremely high fuel prices, dense population and supportive government. According to a spokesperson for Agassi, 90.0% of Israel car owners drive less than 45.0 miles per day, as all the major urban centers in the small country are within 100 miles of one another. Thus, battery operated vehicles are more feasible in Israel than in nations with longer average commutes.

The electronic car network might be especially attractive to Israel given its location and history of turmoil with its oil-supplying neighbors.

"Today is a new age with new dangers and the greatest danger is that of oil," said Israeli President Shimon Peres. "It is the greatest polluter of our age and oil is the greatest financial terror."

Some, like analyst Aaron Bragman of Global Insight, are skeptical of the plans, particularly the short time-line Renault-Nissan and Project Better Place have laid out. "The electrification of cars is definitely coming. Whether it will come that soon is another question," said Bragman. While the analyst doesn't think that it is impossible to create such a network in under three years, he noted "a lot of things would have to right for it to happen."

Despite the heat from naysayers, President Peres remains firmly positive and constructive. "There was a time when people said you couldn't stop smoking. Using gas is like smoking," said the President.

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