The billion dollar electric car plan
Australians could be driving electric cars by 2012 if Californian company Better Place has its way and introduces its innovative electric car network in Australia. Better Place has announced agreements with financial adviser Macquarie Capital Group to raise $1 billion to develop the initial infrastructure, and with AGL Energy to supply the renewable energy.
Better Place has developed a model for “sustainable mobility”, which allows consumers to own an electric car for a fraction of the cost of a comparable petrol-engine car.
Under the business model, Better Place would own the specially developed batteries that power the cars, and these would be recharged or exchanged at numerous Better Place network stations forming an Electric Recharge Grid. The electricity to power the batteries comes solely from renewable sources; in Australia it would be supplied by partner AGL Energy.
The Electric Recharge Grid infrastructure “is a massive network of battery charging spots” around cities and in the country. A computer in the car shows the remaining power supply and the nearest charging spot. Changing batteries is said to be quicker than filling up.
Better Place says it will offer several car models and subscription packages that will reduce the total cost of ownership and subsidise the car as part of the package.
Better Place has a partnership for the production of mass-produced electric vehicles with the Renault-Nissan alliance, which it says is the world leader in electric car development.
Nissan, with joint venture partner NEC, has created a battery pack that is suitable for electric vehicles and can be produced in mass volume. Renault is working on the development of exchangeable batteries for continuous mobility.
Renault’s vehicles will run purely on electricity, achieving the objective of zero emissions. They will “offer driving performances similar to a 1.6-litre gasoline engine. Equipped with lithium-ion batteries, they will give driving range and longevity.”
Consumers will have a choice of make and model. “Consumers will buy and own their car and subscribe to energy, including the use of the battery, based on kilometres driven. This model is similar to the way mobile phones are sold, with an initial purchase and a monthly subscription for the mobility service,” Better Place says.
“Combined with the lower cost of electricity as opposed to fuel-based energy, and the vehicle’s lifetime guarantee, the total cost of ownership for the customer will be significantly lower than that of a fuel-based car over the life cycle of the vehicle.”
Better Place expects the first mass market EV models to be available in Australia by the 2012 model year, a year after its mass market launch in Israel and Denmark.
The scaleable model adopted in Israel and Denmark will be used to build the EV network in Australia. Macquarie will assist in business development and help raise $1 billion to build the network.
It is early days and details of the fund-raising should be known in about six to nine months, says David Roseman, head of Macquarie Capital Group’s Infrastructure and Utilities Advisory-Australasia.
The offer is likely to be pitched at professional and sophisticated investors and would suit superannuation funds with their long time horizons, he says. The investment vehicle is likely to be unlisted. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will see the initial infrastructure roll out.
Victorian Premier John Brumby says: “The Victorian Government supports any initiative that will have positive outcomes in reducing emissions in the transport sector and welcomes this innovative approach to help make broad adoption of EVs in Australia possible.”
Shai Agassi, chief executive and founder of Better Place, said Australia is the world’s sixth-largest country and building the network in Australia will demonstrate that the business model works in all countries, regardless of size.
The plan will help Australia take a generational leap forward toward oil independence, said Agassi. “With our commitment to build infrastructure and the federal government’s $500 million Green Car Innovation Fund, there is a compelling case for automobile manufacturers to jump in and build clean, safe, affordable electric cars for Australasia and South-East Asia.”
AGL’s group general manager, Jeff Dimery, says the initiative will accelerate the shift toward renewables that is already under way. “AGL is committed to increasing its renewable energy generation and believes it is important to collaborate and implement cross-industry initiatives to counter climate change. Because EVs charge primarily at night, they can maximise the potential of intermittent renewable energy such as wind.”
Roseman says: “The Better Place business model is game-changing and represents an exciting opportunity for Australian consumers, the environment, domestic automakers, the renewable energy sector, local industry and workers to move to the forefront of the energy revolution.
“Electric vehicles represent a more affordable alternative to the conventional combustion-powered vehicle. We believe the combination of a competitively priced vehicle, being driven by cheaper and cleaner fuel is a compelling business case.”
Better Place was launched in 2007 with $200 million of venture funding. Investors include: Acorns to Oaks II, Esarbee Investments Canada, GC Investments LLC, Israel Cleantech Ventures, Israel Corp, Maniv Energy Capital, Morgan Stanley, Musea Ventures, Ofer Group, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Vayikra Partners and Wolfensohn & Co.
Better Place plans to activate its electric car networks on a country-by-country basis beginning in 2010.