Project Better Place Taps Israel CEO, New Partners

kaplinsky1.jpgNow that Shai Agassi’s electric vehicle network startup Project Better Place has started to charge ahead in its first market, Israel, the company has begun to put the pieces in place to actually build the 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.

First off, the company has named Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, the former deputy chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, as the CEO of Better Place Israel (check out his Wikipedia entry, it’s pretty extensive). Kaplinsky will report to Agassi, and will lead the building of the Israeli project, which will cost an initial $200 million, rising to $1 billion by the time the project is complete.

Now that it’s named a leader, the company needs to start compiling a long list of partners. Project Better Place announced three this week: San Francisco design firm NewDealDesign will design the charging stations and other consumer-facing parts of the network, and Israel’s Aran Research and Development and Nekuda DM will build and install the electric vehicle recharging stations.

So these are a few important steps, but the company still has a very long way to go. Project Better Place raised at least $200 million from investors Israel Corp., Ofer Shipping Holdings, Morgan Stanley, VantagePoint Venture Partners and private investors, and is trying to build the charging station infrastructure across Israel by 2011. The company’s business model will be similar to cell phone subscriptions and vehicle owners will be linked into a nationwide network of charging spots and exchange stations. When a driver travels long distances, he or she can swap batteries at an exchange station to get a fully charged battery, similar to how we stop to fill our gas tanks today.

Perhaps you’re wondering “Why Israel?” The state is a good fit because; the company says 90 percent of Israeli car owners drive less than 70 kilometers per day, and urban areas are less than 150 kilometers apart. Israel also recently extended a tax incentive on the purchase of any “zero-emissions vehicle” until 2019 and has been aggressively trying to become independent of oil for national security reasons.

While the Israeli plan seems to be moving ahead, the big question is whether Project Better Place will be able to recreate the model in other places that have less perfect conditions — where Agassi is less connected, where there is less convenient urban design, and where there are less favorable regulations.

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