A cel phone business model for green cars

This month’s Wired has a cover story featuring Shai Agassi and his new company Better Place.  As a general fan at observing the creativity in other industries, I was completely fascinated by the idea of applying the cel phone business model to the problem of electric cars.  At first, that makes no sense but if you think about it, it actually is a neat way to do it by inverting the solution to focus on the stations instead of the cars.

A fundamental problem with electric cars is that the batteries take too long to charge.  There are too many use cases where the amount of time you are stopping (say, for lunch, a morning meeting, whatever) isn’t long enough to charge a battery.  The way Better Place, who would operate the recharging stations, deals with that is to have the cars manufactured in such a way that you could drive into a car wash like structure and have your old battery taken out, replaced with a fully charged one.  Much like conventional fueling stations today, you are on  your way again in a matter of minutes.

Better Place thinks of the battery swapping stations much like cel phone towers.  In more dense urban areas where there are more stations, you get better coverage than you do in rural areas.  Wireless web services and GPS in the car tell you when you are low on a charge and can find the closest station to you where it can reserve a change out appointment.  The company charges you like phone companies do now.  Maybe you don’t drive a lot and you get 100 miles per month at a low rate or maybe you need unlimited miles at a higher rate.

In order to make this all work, there are issues to deal with involving designing the stations, and the cars; there’s finding a country willing to put in tax laws that give enough breaks to consumers to make an adoption feasible (pilots are planned in Israel and Denmark); there’s getting the funding to make it all happen.

It’s a dizzying endeavor, but it’s a creative concept that has a shot at changing the world.  How many things can you say that about?


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