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Better Place Goes to Japan

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Electric car charging network developer Better Place made another step toward global domination, announcing late yesterday that it’s joining a government pilot project in Japan to test electric vehicle infrastructure in the country. This is the fourth project that the California startup has announced since October.

Over in Israel, where Better Place has its main research and development center, the company also unveiled its first charging station, plugging in an electric car at a movie theater parking lot (see photo). The charging stations are expected to be deployed throughout Israel, as well as in Denmark, Australia, California and Hawaii.

The Japan project isn’t focusing on charging stations from Better Place — it’ll be the first country in the world to test out the company’s battery exchange station. Yokohama, in Kanagawa prefecture, will be the first location to demonstrate the company’s ability to exchange a depleted electric vehicle battery for a fully charged one.


And there could be more on the way from Better Place in the Asia Pacific region. Better Place founder and CEO Shai Agassi, who used to head up the products and technology group at software firm SAP (s SAP), named a former colleague to head up Better Place’s operations in Japan and the Asia Pacific region overall. Better Place Japan will be led by Kiyotaka Fujii, former president and CEO of Louis Vuitton‘s Japanese subsidiary and former head of SAP Japan.

Better Place announced its last deal just seven days ago, unveiling plans to set up a car charging network in Hawaii, it’s second project in the U.S. In November, Better Place moved in on California, saying it would start with the Bay Area for its first U.S. network.

The project in Japan is scheduled to begin in January and last only 3-6 months, covering areas in Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka, and Hyogo prefectures. Better Place said it’s the only foreign company participating in the Ministry of Environment pilot project, teaming up with Fuji Heavy Industries, which makes Subaru vehicles, as well as other Japanese automakers in the project.

Missing from the Japan project (as well as both U.S. deals) is any mention of Better Place’s vehicle partner, the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Renault-Nissan is working with Better Place in Israel, Denmark and Australia, but it also has a deal, separate from Better Place, to work on an electric vehicle project in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan. It’s not clear if the alliance, which includes Tokyo-based Nissan Motor (s NSANY), is included in this latest Ministry of Environment pilot project. Renault-Nissan has also made deals separate from Better Place to offer electric vehicles in Portugal, France and the state of Tennessee in the United States.

Last month, New York’s Ener1 (s HEV), a developer of batteries, fuel cells and nanomaterials, made its own move on Japan, signing a deal with Japan’s Kyushu Electric Power to develop electric car charging stations on Kyushu, the country’s southernmost island. The first charging station from Ener1 and Kyushu Electric is expected to be available by March.