Project Better Place Gives Details: GPS, Cell-phone Plans and Speedy Battery Exchange

Shai Agassi, who turned 40 this weekend, gave some new details about his plans to build infrastructure for the world’s electric vehicles at the Fortune Green conference on Monday. He detailed his startup’s subscription plans, which will mirror cell phone services (noting MetroPCS, prepaid plans, and rollover miles); described a GPS system that will guide cars to open charging stations; and said the company’s battery exchange system would look like a car wash and take less time to use than it takes to pump gas.

Agassi, formerly No. 2 at SAP, has been rapidly unfolding his plan to build an electric car-charging and battery exchange network country-by-country in an attempt to kick the world’s oil addiction and generate revenues for Project Better Place and its long list of investors. When Agassi began publicly speaking about the project last year, it all seemed like a bit like a pipe dream, with unimaginable (and perhaps insurmountable) capital costs.

But with Israel and Denmark signing on, and after hearing Agassi’s more detailed descriptions here today, it’s looking like yes, Project Better Place, one of the most audacious and well-funded business plans in cleantech, is actually going forward. OK, what’s it going to look like?

Agassi says Project Better place will build what will feel like “an infinite number of charging points” (actually more like 500,000) in Israel that will “connect the last foot of the electric grid to the last foot of the parking grid.” He said there will be four main spots for the charging stations: work, home, downtown and retail.

The system will be connected to a smart back-end and the power grid, so the network can coordinate on smart charging. And the network will use GPS to point the driver to open stations where drivers can park and charge the cars while out and about on local trips. (Google has been discovering the same GPS benefits). Having an all-seeing eye telling you where to easily park your car would be awesome, even without the green aspect.

In addition to the charging stations, Agassi said Project Better Place will build battery exchange spots, for when a driver wants to drive over 100 miles. Nobody wants to stop and charge for a long trip, he explained. And the exchange system will take “less time than you take to fill up your car.”

You come in, your battery comes out, a new full battery comes in, and you keep driving — Shai Agassi.

Agassi also gave more details on how Project Better Place will sell its service and mimic cell-phone plans. First off, the consumer will buy the car, which will be similar to or below the cost of a traditional car — the electric car in Israel will be half the price of a normal gasoline car, and in Denmark could be as low as $20,000, he said.

Then he named three different possible subscription plans:

  • The Prepaid card model: The EV car owner could buy, say, 300 miles in advance and ‘pay as you go.’
  • The Rollover Plan model: Under this plan the consumer could buy a certain amount of packaged miles every month, and take the miles and move them from one month to the next. It’s like cell phone’s “rollover” minutes, but Agassi quipped that rollover miles might not be the best name for the car industry. Agassi said that if a car owner bought 1,000 miles, Project Better Place would guarantee the price, and focus groups have found that the average time people might want that plan is 3.5 years.
  • The MetroPCS plan: The way MetroPCS offers something like $75 per month, and you can drive as much as you want and have as many drivers as you want. Like the one-rate, all-you-can-eat-plan. Agassi says if consumers sign up for that plan for a fixed amount of time, maybe six years in Israel, they’ll give away the car for free.

Alright, so these are some of the new details. Who’d have thought the broadband industry, cell phones, and GPS would have such a big design factor?


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