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Get Ready for the Car 2.0 Era

The CEO of electric vehicle startup Better Place, Shai Agassi, declared last week at San Francisco’s City Hall that we’re on the verge of delivering the era of “Car 2.0.” Before you cringe over the overuse of the Silicon Valley lingo used to describe the next generation of digital technology — Web 2.0 and Mobile 2.0 — here’s why we’re giving Agassi’s term a passing grade: With the news that Better Place plans to build a $1 billion electric vehicle charging network in the Bay Area with the support of city and state policies, the region that brought you the 2.0 moniker stands poised to usher in a whole new transportation paradigm for the digital age.

So what would Car 2.0 look like? The next generation of cars will be networked — both to the power grid and to communication networks — and will have the ease and functionality of our consumer electronics. And as startups and companies in Silicon Valley start working on the next generation of vehicles, IT and software tools will be used to deliver vehicle innovation. Tesla has already been trying to brand its cars as being developed in the Valley and aimed at disrupting Detroit, while Better Place has gone a step further, pulling some of the top talent from the software industry — including Agassi himself, who hails from SAP (s SAP).

Gadi Amit, the founder and principal designer for San Francisco-based NewDealDesign, which is helping design Better Place’s charging stations, battery swap stations and vehicle plug interfaces, says his firm is taking a cue from the user experience of gadgets and cell phones. The company already has a long history of designing consumer electronics like Dell’s (s DELL) eco PC, Fujitsu cell phones and the mobile device the Ogo 2.0. For Better Place’s charging stations that means using things like blinking LED lights and making the charging experience a couple-click “painless” process.

The electric cars themselves will largely look like regular cars but will plug into charging stations — about half the height of a parking meter — throughout the Bay Area, which will be able to charge two cars at a time. The charge will be controlled by smart software and a communication network, which will determine how much electricity will be used at any given time so that the utility can manage the load on the power grid. We’re not sure exactly what standards Better Place will use, but so-called smart charging is being worked on by several companies. V2Green, which was recently acquired by GridPoint, is currently using cellular networks to connect information between the vehicle and the utility.

While software like V2Green’s and Better Place’s will help usher in the next-generation of networked vehicle, the car becoming digital and smart has been a growing trend over the past couple of years. In-car GPS systems have grown in popularity and have become standard in new cars. As consumers have grown accustomed to always-on electronics, startups like Dash Navigation and big tech companies like Microsoft (S MSFT) have been working with car companies to build web-type experiences for vehicles. And every year at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, there are more car companies and vehicle gear than the year before.

But are consumers ready to embrace Car 2.0? According to a report from UC Berkeley’s Global Venture Lab, “The Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Rollout Strategy,” in the Bay Area, the first users of a network like Better Place’s will live in densely populated areas, and will drive a high number of miles per day, likely via long-distance commutes.

Those users are also likely be sensitive to environmental decisions — and costs — but will have a significant amount of disposable income. A good indicator of whether someone would sign up for the network is if they’ve participated in a carpool, says the report. These early adopters will be the most likely to start using an EV network, but will also offer Better Place the best return on investment.

In the Bay Area, the report suggests that Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo would be good first options for an EV network. San Francisco, meanwhile, is unlikely to be one of the first locations to get a lot of charging stations because the driving distances within the city are shorter, and most residents live in apartment buildings. San Francisco residents might be a good candidates to buy electric vehicles, but could be more attracted to charging the cars at their workplaces, which are often in the Silicon Valley and Santa Clara regions.

Ultimately Amit says Better Place wants to focus on making the charging stations, vehicles and battery swap stations low-cost, yet well-designed. These chargers are for “mass deployment,” he says, and are “not just for the rich and famous.” We’ll see how much Better Place’s cars and subscription plans cost before seeing if they could reach mass adoption. And when/if Better Place’s $1 billion network gets built, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley are going to get the first crack at Car 2.0.

32 Responses to “Get Ready for the Car 2.0 Era”

  1. the xp whisper is better than what i am reading about so far…it answers all the basic needs without needing the level of infrastructure you are talking about…the fact that it is not being backed by the big shots means that they have not found a way to make the politics work. The car we are all looking for has been invented already “the Xp”. Everyone but the rich will come to this conclusion when gas prices rise again which is inevitable.Keep asking why, if we have the new car of the future, we are not putting it into large scale production immediately??????

  2. nextgen23

    Would anybody trade in the last 100 years of cultural development in the U.S. to erase the environmental impacts of oil? In sports, I think we call a similar cycle “practice” and “improvement”. The point is that now we know what we are doing wrong, and that we can change and improve.

  3. 1 Billion dollars?
    Check the San Diego group
    Their model is free to the city, given rights-of-way and allowance for outdoor advertising of “green” companies, programs and solutions. Everyone gets to pitch their eco-friendly products and services, like car companies who want to introduce the public to their green vehicles. While too much outdoor advertising can be annoying and/or distracting, knowing my city isn’t blowing a billion dollars for “socialised charging” would mitigate the aggravation of seeing an ad for green initiatives. It might even educate the government on what’s going on in the private sector. We’ll have no money left to fix the potholes but I guess Better Place can donate 10% of their billion dollars to the new “California Interstate Toll Road” which will be needed to pay the billion dollars.

  4. While tring to solve the carbon problem we are using the same thinking that created the carbon problem – not thinking through how the by products of the processes will be handled.

    What about recycling the batteries and the metals in it? Are we replacing the carbon problem with a much worse toxic battery content problem – is the cost of the recycling factored into the price – or will it be an “externality” like all the pollutants in all the industries right now – some one else’s problem? could someone please ask Shai Agassi this important question ?

  5. I am so excited about the potential, and the $$ being invested. But still we don’t have the basics. We do not have a reliable source of power IN the cars – what are we recharging? Batteries? Not there yet. Tesla uses a processor to redirect charge if one of small cylindrical batteries fail so there is no diminished performance, but far from an ideal solution. Think, Volt, all of the other bigger names you think of that will be “first” – do not have a solution yet and it is a big problem. Years down the road, no. Now, the few factories gearing up to try to manufacture (and there are many problems) appropriate solutions cannot generate near the capacity needed for the simplest solutions. So we are excited (yes, I am too!) about these 2.0 support solutions when we haven’t figured out the basics yet. I am hoping soon, would love to buy a plug in….

  6. Unconventional energy conversion systems are under development in several countries. Those inventions that become practical products may prove to be tapping never previously commercialized, renewable, abundant sources of energy. Revolutionary new energy conversion devices can be manufactured in many of the world’s electronic factories. They are likely to prove inherently cost-competitive with all existing energy systems. Not only can they be used to power homes and businesses of every variety, but also to make practical cars, trucks, buses, ships and eventually aircraft that need no engines, batteries, or any variety of conventional fuel or recharge.
    Advanced designs will soon be capable of producing torque and/or electricity on a self-sustaining basis. Devices without moving parts are comparable to an inexhaustible electric battery. One Proof-of-Concept prototype was evaluated by Lee Felsenstein, EE. He concluded it to be analogous to the early work on the transistor, which eventually led to a Nobel Prize and the creation of Silicon Valley.
    2,000 watts is the maximum amount of power that can be drawn from a 110 volt wall outlet to recharge the battery of a plug-in hybrid car. Generators we are developing are expected to generate this much power and demonstrate replacement of the plug needed by a plug-in hybrid car, within a year. This will be a harbinger of automobiles that need no conventional fuel. With normal progress, prototype new energy conversion systems are anticipated to replace an automobile engine within three years. That goal might be achieved in less time if development involves four teams of engineers and technicians working on a 24/7 basis. These prototypes will open a path to mass production of entirely new varieties of automotive power plants. Vehicles powered by these technologies will never require conventional fuel of any kind.
    Cars can become a source of income
    Vehicle to grid (V2G) power was demonstrated by Google and PG&E during 2007. It was recently estimated that selling power to the grid from future production hybrid electric cars might earn the vehicles’ owner $4,000 each year. This assumes that power will be drawn by utilities from the car’s batteries, using a two-way, plug.
    In the future, cars powered by new energy conversion systems are expected to earn much more, as these generators are anticipated to replace both batteries and car engines. Therefore, they are expected to produce far greater amounts of electricity. No plug will be required.

  7. Brian Rock

    Make that Electric Car 3.0! Hopefully, plunging gas prices won’t gut this round’s efforts.

    Electric Car 1.0 was during the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970’s. Electric Car 2.0 was the Clear Air Act of 1990’s that the Big 3 cooperated with on one front, but fought tooth, nail and claw on the legislative and judicial front and killed it by the late 1990’s.

  8. I’m as excited as everyone else about reducing our energy footprint. However, I’m sorry to be cynical, but Car 2.0 scares me as the time when we’ll have to “reboot” our cars to recover from random errors. 15 years ago there was a running joke about “if Microsoft built cars … they’d be going 2000 mph, but wouldn’t be compatible with last year’s highway lanes, and you’d have to reboot them every 4 hours” or something like that. It sounds like that era might be near. Let’s tread lightly (no pun intended).

  9. Wow you can just love the media. Its just history repeating itself, bring electric cars around for a couple years then send them to their grave. Then do it again 10 years later. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER WHEN HONDA, FORD and GM MADE ELECTRIC CARS? Oh wait the second they did they covered it up and destroyed the cars just years later after realizing leaky greasy million part vehicels make the company more money.
    Jeez this was just 17 years ago.
    Also, dont let anyone ever tell you battery powered cars have problems, they have and make batteries already where a car has a round trip of 200-350 miles on one charge.
    Avg. mileage traveled daily by americans 20-30 miles.

  10. inverse137

    Wow, ambitious and ready for prime time!

    Now if we could just build a couple of nuclear power plants we could have clean electricity powering those clean cars instead of the polluting coal fired electric plants

    There is no such thing as clean burning coal!

  11. This is beyond exciting. I read about this seemingly futuristic concept in Jeff Wilson’s new book The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence NOW. I loved the idea but honestly thought it would be years even decades before we saw such progress towards energy independence. To Jeff Wilson and his book, WTG, To Arnold Schwarzenegger WTG, To BETTER PLACE…U go and show the rest of the country …lead and they will follow…I’m so pleased ….This is one HUGE step towards America becoming the energy independent country it needs to be. Nothing will help our economy more.