Project Better Place Portugal Bound

First it was “Shalom,” then “Goddag,” and perhaps very soon “Olá” for Shai Agassi’s electric vehicle infrastructure startup, Project Better Place, which is reported to have a deal with the Portuguese government. Prime Minister Jose Socrates signed an agreement today with Better Place partners Renault-Nissan to electrify the county’s auto fleet. Project Better Place has not yet been officially announced as a partner, but Diario Economico reports such an agreement is on the way. Project Better Place declined to comment on any ongoing negotiations.

Portugal is a logical next step for Project Better Place to show its system can scale in the open market. The Iberian nation is slightly bigger and more populous than either Denmark or Israel, Project Better Place’s first two national partners. Also, Portugal (like most EU nations) is not a sheltered automotive haven like Denmark or Israel, which have massively skewed tax systems that harshly penalize the internal combustion engine. Geographically, Portugal offers a prime opportunity to test Project Better Place’s ability to adequately deploy charging stations in a place where many drivers travel long distances. Success in Portugal could warm the rest of the European Union to the American startup’s plan.

Nissan and Renault have agreed to roll out electric cars in Portugal by 2011 and will work together to build a charging station infrastructure. The three-year project is estimated to cost the automakers between $500 million and $1 billion. If the experience of Israel and Denmark are any indication, Project Better Place will likely manage the infrastructure development while Renault designs and manufactures the cars and Nissan develops the swappable batteries.

There’s still no word on the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup electrifying any cars stateside but we bet San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is getting antsy as more countries sign on before him.

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