Shai Agassi and Better Place Electric Cars

Shai Agassi and Better Place Electric Cars

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

tagged: innovation, wired, creativity, cars, electric, green

If you have an incumbent with a lot of stakeholders and investment in the status quo, you probably need a startup to shake things up.

For electric cars, I think that's just what the doctor ordered.

Photo Credit: btrplc

Recently watching "Who killed the electric car?" (via replay on CBC's The Passionate Eye),at one point we paused the watching to discuss the merits of electric cars. And I can't talk about electric cars without wishing, yet again, that the "Better Place" car was available.

If you're not aware, Better Place is Shai Agassi's brainchild for having cheap, functional electric cars.

The documentary focuses on answering the question of "Who killed the electric car?" It suggests consumers (for not wanting to buy electric cars), car companies (for not wanting to change the status quo of sales), government, oil companies... If I recall correctly, he didn't blame Elmo from Sesame Street - but Elmo was about the only one who went unscathed1.

The laying of blame wasn't completely without merit as it is part of what spurred me to think about Better Place again.

  • If you are worried about car companies protecting their vested interest in the status quo...
    ...then a startup (car company in this case) is the way to go. Startups, by definition, have no status quo. So they are happy to challenge it2.
  • If you are worried about the government not instituting the necessary mandates to get car companies to change...
    ...then you need an alternative that doesn't require government intervention: an alternative that is intrinsically interested in changing.
  • If you are worried that big oil has too much pull with the government for the government to stand firm...
    ...then you need an alternative that has no vested interested with big oil and nothing to lose by ignoring the current state of affairs.
  • If you are worried that consumers won't choose an alternative that is new, and more limited than the current option...
    ...then you need an alternative that isn't limited in any way that is important to consumers.

I think the Better Place concept delivers on these needs:

  • They think they can make money at electric cars.
  • They are interested in this idea regardless of what government or big oil wants.
  • They have an alternative for consumers that isn't limited to a short range like most electric cars we've seen to date (side: they can replace an entire battery in < 2 minutes at their "charging" stations - so you can theoretically just keep driving and replacing batteries as needed).
  • Their alternative is competitively priced.


Notes & Links

  1. I don't think that pointing fingers at a responsible group is usually very useful activity. Let's just sit down and do the work of getting ourselves to a more environmentally sustainable future. I care more about getting there than who is to blame for why we aren't yet there.
  2. Indeed, challenging the status quo is often the only way they can grow and make a profit since there is an incumbent who is entrenched in the status quo already taking that revenue stream.
    In this case, Better Place has no ties to existing government subsidies, no ties to oil companies, and forget about EPA fuel economy / mileage concerns - this vehicle is on a whole different scale (we do need to measure the pollution caused by the generation of electricity).
  3. What brought this up?
    I saw some articles talking about the recent decision for GM chief, ZDNet suggested that Shai Agassi would be a better choice. I'd rather Agassi keep Better Place rolling forward and bring out an entirely new car from an entirely new company - as opposed to getting bogged down with legacy pension plans, designs, manufactoring plants, and lobby groups over at GM.
  4. Wired's recent listing of the 100 most creative people drops Agassi at 3:
  5. If you haven't seen Agassi's talk at this year's TED, you can find it here:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009, 9:48 AM

tagged: innovation, wired, creativity, cars, electric, green