How Two Billionaires Are Supercharging The Electric Car To Upend Big Oil Forbes

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Chery QQ3 EV Electric Cars

How Two Billionaires Are Supercharging The Electric Car To Big Oil

A roadhouse off Interstate 5 near is the last place you’d to see an electric car pull in to refuel. A of nowhere surrounded by the endless of California ‘s Central Valley, almost exactly 200 miles both San Francisco and Los Angeles kind of place unreachable by electric cars. Until

The roadhouse is one of only six locations in the outfitted with Tesla One of these 6-foot-tall white sits away from the gas as if it wants no part of them.

in my sleek, silver $85,000 Motors Model S for a half-hour that will get me another 150 of range, a guy filling up his SUV ambles “How much is that you?”

“It’s free,” I

He shakes his head and returns to a gas ringing up a three-figure sale. A few and another Supercharger visit I arrive in Los Angeles from San a journey that would been impossible even a earlier, covering 400 miles in six without emitting a molecule of or spending a penny on fuel.

“A key people have about cars is whether they’ll the same sense of freedom have with a gasoline says Elon Musk. the billionaire cofounder of Tesla Musk plans to eliminate fear next year a solar-powered Supercharger network–and the are on him (as long as you own a Model S). “The way to convey the message that cars are actually better gasoline cars is to say charging is

On the other side of the world billionaire, 57-year-old Idan is offering a competing vision. His Better Place, has built of service stations in Israel and where drivers of Renault Z.E. sedans pull in and robots swap the car’s battery pack for a fresh one in “I want to scale as fast as and I want to be all over Europe,” Ofer, who FORBES estimates is $6.2 billion, making him richest person.

They can’t be right. The electric car already appears a dubious right now–the Chevy Nissan Leaf and all-electric Focus will sell a bit more than 30,000 in America this year, 155,242 Toyotas sold in the in October alone. For the electric car to be viable, it needs an industry

Which makes this car versus battery-swapping–the next technology platform battle, in the league as AC and DC power, VHS and Betamax, and HD DVD, with the winner to eventually take a shot at the trillion gasoline-powered paradigm.

To the stakes still higher, two wild cards are at play. The is China, the world’s biggest car and one unabashedly interested, given its oil dependency, in electric vehicles. The government has decreed that 5 of them should be on the road by but has yet to decide on fixed or swappable as the standard.

China’s scale can decide the “Whoever is successful in this in China will get the government to and say, ‘This is the way to go,’ ” Ofer, an old China hand who has the past few years giving Place an inside track Chinese policymakers, party and automakers. “ They’re going to for a while,” he adds. “And why we need to move as fast as there.” Advantage, Ofer.

The wild card: Warren Berkshire Hathaway owns a 10% in BYD, a Chinese automaker makes electric cars on standard: nonswappablebatteries. Ofer and Place have made to BYD to build battery-switchable models, but BYD and have so far resisted.

BYD aims to its electric car to the U.S. and other markets. Advantage, Musk.

The with the U.S. electric car can be boiled down to a chicken-and-egg High prices and limited 75 miles on a charge for the Leaf and kept sales of electric depressed. And with few cars on the automakers are wary of the investments to lower the price and increase the

Five years ago Better founder Shai Agassi he could crack this globally. Agassi, a former top at software giant SAP, to treat miles on the road the way executives treat cellphone billing customers via that and letting them juice up at a home charging station, in the car’s cost, or at a switch out on the road. Drivers would buy the but Better Place would own the the vehicle’s most expensive

In 2007 Agassi returned to his Israel to pitch potential and landed in the office of Idan an unlikely investor given his family’s fortune derived shipping, oil and chemicals. But Ofer was Agassi’s model complemented a interest.

After eight living in Hong Kong, understood that China’s automobile lust was hampered by the abundant air pollution and lack of “This is perfect for China, or any emerging economy where are able to switch from to cars,” Ofer said an interview at his airy, art-decked overlooking Central Park in

Months before meeting Agassi, Ofer’s Israel had agreed to invest more $200 million in a joint called Qoros with automaker Chery Automobile to high-quality, export-worthy cars would appeal to the country’s affluent consumers. Following the meeting, Ofer and his partners Qoros would go electric swappable batteries) and Israel would eventually invest $200 million-plus in Better giving it nearly a one-third in the company after Agassi a total of $750 million investors that include Electric, Morgan Stanley and Two geographically compact, oil-dependent Israel and Denmark, were as Better Place’s first

Chery QQ3 EV Electric Cars

But Better Place has had only one car to potential customers–the electric that Renault had agreed to compatible with the company’s stations. (Other automakers so far balked at ceding control of battery packs by making swappable.) An innovative billing alone couldn’t solve the problem–China standardizing around batteries would. Ofer and Place executives in 2009 began frequenting Beijing, with bureaucrats and regional bosses who have invested in companies and battery makers. need to tread carefully and confidence over time,” Ofer, who chooses his words deliberation, particularly when the is China. “They need to a consensus, watching that don’t alienate anybody, as it has on their career within the Party system.”

In 2010 Better Place with state-owned Beijing to build prototypes of a battery-switchable car on Saab models the Chinese had acquired from GM’s Swedish subsidiary. Better also built battery-switchable with state-owned Chery. projects are still in their phases. But one key Chinese automaker has Better Place’s efforts: the Buffett investment that both electric vehicles and “BYD was very focused on the approach,” says Better executive Dan Cohen.

Ofer that in 2010 Better approached BerkshireHathaway directly collaborating in the U.S. to no avail.

state-owned utilities have far more accommodating. Battery-switching avoid having all those cars on the grid and offer a new to dominate.

In April of last immediately after China its goal of 5 million electric on the road by 2020, Better inked a deal with Southern Power Grid, one of the two giant utilities, to build a switch station in Guangzhou. in Guangzhou also signed an with Better Place, to help the company develop an car infrastructure supply chain and to regional Chinese automakers to battery-switchable cars. Ofer began inviting Chinese to Israel for a firsthand look at Place’s first network, launched this summer.

It’s unclear if they swayed. Since launching its and Danish networks Better has signed up a mere 800 customers. In China’s State Council, the top administrative authority, released a that seemed to favor charging over battery

But then in September a white issued by one of the government’s research advocated battery swapping as a electric car strategy for China. See, an analyst with Lux who follows the Chinese electric car says he believes the government is toward conventional charging but “I would caution at this in saying that anything is because things can change quickly in China.” Ofer is antsy: Amid criticism Better Place’s slow and mounting losses–it has bled million since its inception–Ofer founder Shai Agassi as executive in October, citing “a point in the company’s evolution.”

Musk is as brash as Ofer is He argues, with irony, he actually gave his rival the concept. “Before starting Place, Shai Agassi was Tesla, and we were talking to him the future,” he says, “which high-speed charging and battery (A Better Place spokesman that, saying that was merely inspired by the Tesla to cook up his own idea.)

Either way, Tesla’s and chief technical officer, JB says that soon that, Tesla decided to bet on its technology, which can replenish a in 30 minutes, versus 6 hours for a charger. It’s a natural At its sprawling headquarters in a former research lab in the hills above University, workers in a brightly white-walled area already huge lithium-ion battery and drive trains for the Model S and the RAV4 electric sport vehicle.

These same are simply adapted for the faster Tesla, which is producing 200 a week, says its economies of allow it to make a Supercharger for “This doesn’t have to be trillion-dollar collaboration with says Straubel. “We can do it ourselves.”

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