And Out of Zion Shall Come Forth the Electric Car

Israel will introduce electric cars and make them a viable alternative to oil-consuming vehicles within the next three years.

Ezra HaLevi ,

Illustration of  a charge point
Illustration of a charge point
(Project Better Place)

Israel will introduce electric cars and the infrastructure necessary to make them a viable alternative to oil-consuming vehicles within the next three years.

The first cars, to be produced by Nissan and Renault, are projected to be on Israel’s streets by 2009, with 100,000 by the next year and a complete switchover from oil within the decade.

The initiative is aimed both at environmental friendliness and reducing the reliance on Arab oil.

Shai Agassi, who heads the initiative and founded Project Better Place, says the goal is to show the world that it is possible to stop using oil in a manner that can be replicated. He says Israel is a good place for the initial pilot program since the distance a charged electric car can travel of 200 km (124 miles) is more than enough to travel anywhere in the Jewish state. Ninety percent of car owners drive less than 72 km a day and Israel’s urban centers are all less than 160 km apart.

Battery exchange stations will be deployed around the country, as well as charging stations at parking lots. Agassi says the plan will initially need 150,000 charging points, but estimates there will be about 500,000 such points around Israel eventually. He compares the deployment of the charging points to the cellular companies’ erection of cell-phone towers to provide seamless coverage throughout the country.

The program also calls for fueling plans to be purchased in a manner similar to cell-phone calling plans, with a certain price for unlimited charging and other plans for pre-paid battery-switches and the like.

Through the battery-exchange program, Agassi hopes to keep the price of the cars down. The cost of replacing the expensive batteries has in the past been a deterrent factor to the adoption of electric cars.

The Israeli government has agreed to pitch in, slashing taxes on electric vehicles drastically compared with standard ones.

Agassi says officials in 15 other countries, including the UK, Denmark, and China, are interested in the project, eyeing the Israeli pilot program to gauge its success.

Asked by Globes for his response to detractors who doubt the viability of the project, Agassi responded that he had already raised $200 million in capital for the project – making him quite the “magician” if the plan indeed lacks viability. “Enterprises like Israel Corp. and Morgan Stanley don’t put in money without seeing a business plan, and this was one of the strongest business plans I've ever seen,” he said.

Commenting on the cars themselves: “There's already an operational prototype. I've driven it, and it goes from 0 to 100 km per hour in 7.5 seconds. In other words, there's a product and it's one of the fastest cars on the road.”