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Electric Car Network

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David Pogue, the NYT technology writer, interviewed Better Place chief executive Shai Agassi on the CBS News Sunday Morning last Sunday. Better Place has been much in the news lately for its plans to build an electric car network. You’ve probably read about it — this is the idea that you don’t have to charge your car at home or work and get limited range. Instead you can drive into the electric equivalent of gas stations when you’re on long drives and have the battery swapped for a fresh one. For shorter drives, charging the one in the car overnight or while at work should work fine, but for long drives you do battery swaps. Plus, the company owns the battery, so the price of the car drops. And as battery technology improves, the company drops in better batteries, so you don’t have to worry about having an out-dated battery that doesn’t perform as well as those in new cars.

I didn’t see Pogue’s interview of Agassi, but yesterday Pogue had a blog post containing an edited transcript of the interview that, though shorter than the full interview, is longer than what was shown on TV. It’s fascinating. I urge you to read it. The ideas underlying the network, as described partly above, fit together brilliantly. A short excerpt is below, but read the whole transcript.

SA: Most of the car efforts were done from within the car, and assuming that there is no infrastructure change at all. It’s as if people were trying to build cars, but skipping over the gas station.

We started from the infrastructure. We came up with an electric car that would have two features that nobody had before. 1) The battery is removable. So if you wanted to go a long distance, you could switch your battery instead of waiting for it to charge for a very long time.

And 2) It was cheaper than gasoline car, not more expensive. Because you didn’t buy the battery. You paid just for the miles and for the car.

DP: So what will you guys make? What will you do?

SA: We sell miles, the way that AT&T sells you minutes. They buy bandwidth and they translate into minutes. We buy batteries and clean electrons–we only buy electrons that come from renewable sources–and we translate that into miles.

DP: What are we talking about here? What’s the infrastructure you’re building?

SA: We have two pieces of infrastructure. 1) Charge spots. And they will be everywhere, like parking meters, only instead of taking money from you when you park, they give you electrons. And they will be at home, they’ll be at work, they’ll be at downtown and retail centers. As if you have a magic contract with Chevron or Exxon that every time you stop your car and go away, they fill it up.

Now, that gives us the ability to drive most of our drives, sort of a 100-mile radius. And that’s most of the drives we do. But we also take care of the exceptional drive. You want to go from Boston to New York. And so on the way, we have what we call switch stations: lanes inside gas stations. You go into the switch station, your depleted battery comes out, a full battery comes in, and you keep driving. It takes you about two, three minutes–less than filling with gasoline–and you can keep on going.

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