Michigan Governor Looking for A Better Detroit?


Could Detroit be the first region in the U.S. to sign on with Shai Agassi’s electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place? Michigan’s governor Jennifer Granholm is certainly giving appearances that she’s looking into the idea of how the electric charging and battery swap stations would work in Michigan. Electrifying Detroit, if not Michigan as a whole, could be an interesting option, considering the tumultuous times and the questions over the auto bailout.


This weekend Granholm travelled to Israel and met with Agassi and took a well-photographed ride in one of Better Place’s electric vehicles. Granholm blogged about the trip as well, and of the meeting with Agassi said:

We want to reduce our state’s and our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and the advanced battery has the potential to do just that. We [She and Shai] talked about future partnerships that might be viable for Michigan, and in Michigan, we know that new energy means new jobs.


Building out Better Place across Michigan probably wouldn’t make sense, given that the state has low population densities in many northern regions, but setting up the system in just Detroit could give the almost 1 million population city a new electric option. Then again Detroit residents have one of the lowest median incomes according to the U.S. Census, so they might not be eager to snap up high-end electric vehicles. The big auto industries aren’t that keen on the idea of Better Place, either — with General Motor’s vice chairman Bob Lutz actively making negative comments about the startup. So, we’re not sure traditional Detroit is ready for the idea.

Last month, Better Place announced that it is heading Down Under to deploy its electric car infrastructure in Australia, which is the third partnership the startup has signed after Israel and Denmark. But Better Place seems to be itching to find a pilot site in the U.S. to prove the business model can work stateside; Agassi said last month at a talk in San Francisco that for just California, the infrastructure setup would cost $1.5 billion, or about two weeks of oil imports. To set up the entire U.S. with the electric vehicle charging infrastructure, it would cost $100 billion.


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What I find so amazing is the “infrastructure setup would cost $1.5 billion, or about two weeks of oil imports. To set up the entire U.S. with the electric vehicle charging infrastructure, it would cost $100 billion” how is it when these sorts of figures are used there is no follow through to actual improvement in what could be a very beneficial area to the world not just to Michigan?


Better Place’s (“BP”) idea is the dumbest thing ever. It is premised on the assumption that battery technology will not evolve and improve. Battery technology is technology. With time, technology gets better and costs less. Look at processors, LCD TVs, etc. Investment into battery technology has been growing exponentially since the advent of laptops, cellphones, PDAs. Batteries can already get us 100 miles. How much improvement do we need before BP’s “recharging/swapping stations” become redundant? BP plans to have it’s infrastructure set up in Australia by 2012. As per normal delays, that means it will actually be set up by 2014-16. There are no plans for the USA. So, at the earliest, infrastructure would be set up here by 2018. That is a decade away. Where do you think battery technology will be in a decade? It in all likelihood, it will be in a place that makes BP’s charging stations redundant before they even got started. All BP is trying to do is get into the market early to create a electricity network monopoly. When consumers realize that their batteries are good enough so that the network is redundant, BP’s monopoly will disintegrate.

Garry G

I am a big fan of Shai Agassi and have followed the ‘swap out’ model biz model as it has evolved from years ago when it was proposed in a Shell energy scenrio.

Where I think Agassi is spot on – is separating the purchase of vehicle from energy storage system. Reduce the risk and uncertainty for the consumer!

In the end, I think it will be a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors that drive the electric vehicle industry forward. So I’m not sure about the electric charge stations… but the ‘swap out’ model is perfect!

There is a great 30 minute video interview from Web 2.0 conference with Shai Agassi at:


Garry G

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