mardi 4 janvier 2011

Auto industry 'scepticism' biggest obstacle to electric cars

It's a bold call, maybe even outlandish – the end of new gasoline cars by 2020. But if you listen to Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive of Better Place, an Israeli company providing infrastructure for electric cars, you might want to believe it.

Significant progress has been made in developing electric cars, but critics complain that the distance these vehicles can cover is still too short and much work is needed to prepare electricity infrastructure for radical change (for more, see our LinksDossier).

The biggest obstacle, he says, is scepticism, especially on the part of the auto industry.

"We're fighting a lot of pre-conceived notions," he told EurActiv in an interview. "The biggest one of them is that change doesn't happen. And suddenly somebody comes up and says we can make a huge change in the way we build the car, the way we operate the car and the way we price the car."

"And the industry says change is not going to happen."

Agassi admitted however that there is "scepticism in the market". "We bought 100,000 cars from Renault [...] Most carmakers are saying 'you're not going to find 100,000 people to take those cars'."

But for him, the best demonstration that electric cars can work is what's being happening in Tokyo. "We've had taxis in Tokyo go 180 days now, non-stop, day in day out. Taxis can drive for half a year: there's not a car with worse driving patterns than taxis."

"If a taxi can work, anything can work."

'Not exclusive with Renault'

Better Place made headlines when it teamed up with French carmaker Renault in February 2008 to launch Israel's first electric vehicles. The alliance aims to provide the necessary conditions for the successful launch of electric vehicles in Israel by 2011, with Better Place building an electric battery recharging network across the country.

However, Agassi says, "we're not exclusive with Renault". "For the first few years, both of us will rely on one another, but if it works it will work with any car from any automaker that will make a car to fit the model."

"Any type of car could get it. We license that to the carmakers for free so they can build a car like that. There's no blockage for anybody to get in."

Agassi comes back on the claims made by his company. First, that electric cars will have a sufficient driving range and second, that potential clients will find it attractive.

"The last claim was the controversial part – that the overall cost of the entire infrastructure would be less than one week of gasoline use in that country."

Agassi is confident that this will be the case in the countries that will be covered by the Better Place network. Israel, he says, uses $25 million of gasoline a day. The entire network cost in the country is $150 million – six days worth of gasoline.

And in Holland, the cost of the Better Place network is estimated at €60 million or one day's worth of gasoline.

SOURCE : Euractiv

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