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Bay Area seeks to become electric-car capital

The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose announced an ambitious public-private partnership last week to develop a $1 billion network of charging outlets for electric cars.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / November 24, 2008

Hybrid electric cars sit on display in front of San Francisco's city hall on November 20. San Francisco Bay Area cities promised to build the electric car capital of the United States, announcing a plan to work with start-up Better Place to put battery-powered autos on the road in 2012.

Kimberly White / Reuters

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The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose announced an ambitious public-private partnership last week to develop a $1 billion network of charging outlets for electric cars.

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The money will be raised by Better Place, a Silicon Valley startup that develops infrastructure to support electric vehicles. The company plans to install about 250,000 charging ports and up to 200 battery-exchange stations in the Bay Area by 2012. The mayors say that they predict that this network will make the area a top-priority market for electric-vehicle manufacturers.

"Our aim is to make the Bay Area – and eventually Californiathe electric vehicle capital of the US," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in a press release.

The plan was praised by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who touted its environmental and economic potential.

"This type of public-private partnership is exactly what I envisioned when we created the first ever low-carbon fuel standard and when the state enacted the zero-emissions vehicle program." said Governor Schwarzenegger in the press release. "This partnership is proof that by working together, we can achieve our goals of creating a healthier planet while boosting our economy at the same time."

Better Place, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has already begun developing electric-vehicle grids in Israel, Denmark, and Australia. The company, which is headed by software whiz and former SAP executive Shai Agassi, operates under a novel business model, distributing electric cars the way telecoms distribute cellphones.

Instead of purchasing a car outright, customers subscribe to a certain number of miles per month and get the electric car at a discounted rate, or even for free. Better Place operates the recharge grid and owns the batteries.

Most current electric-car batteries can go only about 40 miles before needing to be recharged. (That's more than the average round-trip daily commute.) For trips longer than that, Better Place is planning to build 100 to 200 completely automated battery-swapping centers in the Bay Area, where drivers can pull in and have their depleted batteries exchanged for fresh ones, all without ever leaving their cars.

In previous deals, Better Place has partnered with Renault-Nissan, which provides the electric cars. The automaker was absent at last Thursday's announcement, but an electric Nissan Rouge SUV was among the electric cars on display outside San Francisco's city hall.

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