Peres and AgassiIsraeli government endorses plan to install world’s first electric car network in country by 2011

Associated Press

Israel’s government endorsed the ambitious plan of a private entrepreneur to install the world’s first electric car network here by 2011, with half a million recharging stations to crisscross the tiny nation.

Supporters hailed the undertaking as a bold step in the battle against global warming and energy dependency, but skeptics warned that much could still go wrong along the way.

In a signing ceremony with the French Renault-Nissan Alliance carmaker – under the slogan “Transportation without fuel, making peace between transportation and the environment” – Israel’s leaders pledged to provide tax incentives to customers to make Israel’s cars fuel-free.

The project is a joint venture between Renault-Nissan, who will provide the electric vehicles, and the Silicon Valley-based startup Project Better Place, which will operate the recharge grid. The replacement and charging of the lithium-ion batteries is supposed to work like that of a cell phone battery.

“For the first time in history, all the conditions necessary for electric vehicles to be successfully mass-marketed will be brought together,” the two companies said in a statement.

car with electric engine
Car with electric engine

‘Humankind addicted to oil’
The initiative is the brainchild of Shai Agassi, a 39-year-old Israeli-American entrepreneur and high-tech star, who raised $200 million in investment money to get the project off the ground. “Our planet’s battery got charged over hundreds of millions of years, and yet we have consumed half the world’s oil in one century. In the process, we got addicted to oil, polluted our cities and altered our planet’s climate,” Agassi said. “Finally, we are running out of out most precious commodity of all – we are running out of time.”

Less than a year ago, Agassi quit as a top executive at the German software giant SAP AG to pursue his green dreams. Along with his partner Idan Ofer, he founded Project Better Place, aimed at helping reduce greenhouse emissions by building a network of charging stations for electric cars across Israel.

Agassi’s spokesman said his home country of Israel was the ideal laboratory to market his vision – with its high fuel prices, dense population centers, and supportive government.

Peres: Oil the greatest danger
In Israel, 90 percent of car owners drive less than 43.5 miles per day and all major urban centers are less than 150 kilometers 93 miles apart, making the use of battery-operated cars more feasible than in countries with longer average commutes. Green cars are also particularly attractive to Israel, which hopes to weaken the political clout of its oil-rich enemies.

“Today is a new age with new dangers and the greatest danger is that of oil,” President Shimon Peres said. “It is the greatest polluter of our age and oil is the greatest financier of terror.”

Other automakers have produced plug-in hybrid prototypes, which switch from pure electric to gas engine to a blended gas electric mode. But the Renault model is the first mass-produced model designed to be completely fuel-free.

“Zero emission, zero noise,” Renault-Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said. “It will be the most environmentally friendly mass-produced car on the market.” Ghosn said the cars, with a range of up to 100 miles per charge, would have a top speed o f68 mph — the top speed limit in Israel. And Aggasi vowed that, in the long run, the electric car would be cheaper to operate than one based on fuel.

Israeli leaders said they hoped the country would prove to be a trailblazer in the field of alternative energy. “This initiative will revolutionize cars in Israel and throughout the world,” National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said.

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