photo: Better Place
Electric cars, eh?
Silicon Valley startup Better Place on Thursday unveiled a deal with the government of Ontario – the Michigan of Canada – to build an electric car charging network in the automaking province. The announcement comes on the heels of agreements Better Place — the electric car infrastructure company founded by former software executive Shai Agassi — has made with governments in Australia, California, Denmark, Hawaii, Israel and Japan. Better Place is working with the Canadian arm of Sydney-based infrastructure finance giant Macquarie to develop the Ontario electric car network.
“We need to be where the puck is going and in this case bring the puck to Ontario,” said Ontario minister of international trade Pupatello at a press conference in Toronto Thursday morning.
The Canadian deal comes amid turmoil in the nascent electric car industry. While EV companies like Think and Tesla struggle to survive the credit crisis, the big automakers – Ford (F), General Motors (GM), Toyota (TM), Honda (HMC) and Chrysler – have announced they’re accelerating plans to build electric cars and, in GM’s case, a battery-making factory.
On Thursday, the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, said his government will conduct a study on how to expedite the introduction of electric cars in the province. When the study is released in May, Better Place will detail its plan and investment timeline for building the network of charging posts and battery-swapping stations.
Better Place, said McGuinty, “is a model with the power to reshape our province. It’s going to create new green jobs, it’s going to make life more convenient for car drivers of the future and it’s going to signal to the world that Ontario is electric-car friendly and will make it a more attractive place to build electric cars.”
Agassi has now committed to raising billions in capital to simultaneously build charging networks in five far-flung countries over the next three years. When Green Wombat talked to Agassi in November after he signed a deal to build a $1 billion San Francisco Bay Area charging network, he insisted the financial crisis would not hamper efforts to raise funding.
Under Better Place’s system, consumers will buy the electric cars while Better Place will own the batteries, charging subscribers to its network a fee per-mile (or kilometer) driven. Renault-Nissan is supplying electric cars for Better Place’s other networks. An electric Nissan SUV – emblazoned with little wind turbines – was parked at the press conference but company spokeswoman Julie Mullins said an electric car supplier had not yet been selected for Ontario. “Ultimately, we expect a wide range of vehicle makes and models to be available to drivers,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We are currently in talks with several car companies.”
Ontario-based Bullfrog Power will provide renewable energy – 80% hydro, 20% wind – for the Better Place network. “We’re going to create a virtual oil field across the province,” said Agassi.