Latest Silicon Valley status symbol: The plug-in hybrid

OurPower.org's Sass Somekh figures if he can get execs with money to pony up for a plug-in, their minions will follow.

If you've got a fancy job in the Bay Area, you're probably going to get the sales call from Sass Somekh.

Somekh, the former president of equipment maker Novellus and an alum of Applied Materials, has started OurPower.org as a way to promote plug-in hybrid conversions. Converting a regular Prius to a plug-in isn't cheap. The price runs about $10,000. Even if gas rises to $4 a gallon, it would still take nearly 100,000 miles of driving before you broke even. (OurPower.org is working with A123 Systems, the lithium-ion battery maker, to perform the conversions.)

Rather than try to promote this on the mass market, Somekh is hitting up CEOs and other heavy-hitters in the area. If they convert their cars, the reasoning goes, their ever-obsequious vice presidents will follow.

So far, he seems to be drawing a crowd. People who have committed to a conversion include Aart J. de Geus, chairman of Synopsis; Erik Straser, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures; Gary Dickerson, CEO of Varian Semiconductor; and Cal Chow, CEO of Nanosys.

Plug-ins are better for the environment in most states than regular gas because they get 100 miles a gallon or so. (In Ohio and other coal-heavy states, plug-ins are close in total emissions to regular cars.) Out of all the alt fuel car concepts swirling around these days, plug-ins seem to have the broadest support.

Somekh also has formed a small venture firm focused on green investments called Musea Ventures. The firm was one of many that put money into Project Better Place, Shai Agassi's company that will install electric charging stations as a way to promote electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

One of the criticisms of electric cars has been the range. They can only go 250 miles or less on a charge. One idea that might get around that problem: electric car companies, in conjunction with electric charging stations, could allow customers free use of gas cars kept on-site or in the hands of car rental organizations like Zipcar. That way, you could buy an electric car and, when you need it, get your hands on an SUV for a long trip into the mountains.

Somekh reiterated that he doesn't speak for Project Better Place, but it's an interesting idea.

 

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