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Better Place eyes $1 billion electric car network for Bay Area

Electric car-charging start-up Better Place is coming to California, as Bay Area leaders launch plans to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

Better Place aims to bring its electric-car charging network to the Bay Area, where plans are afoot to promote battery-powered vehicles.
Better Place aims to bring its electric-car charging network to the Bay Area, where plans are afoot to promote battery-powered vehicles. Better Place

Better Place aims by 2012 to bring a $1 billion electric-car infrastructure system to the California Bay Area, whose leaders unveiled policies Thursday to fast-track the adoption of electric cars.

The Palo Alto, Calif., start-up will apply its unique business model, followed in Israel, Denmark, and Australia, of providing the public stations to charge vehicles and swap out leased batteries.

Shai Agassi, Better Place founder and CEO, said he hopes to wrap up permitting in the Bay Area within the next year, roll out the infrastructure in 2010, and fine-tune its technology over the next several years as more electric cars come to market.

"We need to stop the conversation of whether this is Detroit versus Silicon Valley, whether this is Michigan versus California, and we need to start talking about this as the next generation of the car," he said. "We hope that by the time we deploy, we'll see our friends from Renault and Nissan but also the three U.S. manufacturers developing cars that have a plug, and have the ability to drive around the city and charge as they go."

Mayors Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, Chuck Reed of San Jose, and Ron Dellums of Oakland joined Agassi at San Francisco City Hall, promising to launch policies in December to support companies and consumers adopting electric cars. (The event was broadcast online via Webcast.)

Among their plans are expedited permitting for car-charging outlets with incentives for businesses and garages installing them or providing battery-swapping. The mayors also pledged to standardize regulations across the region, working with clean-air and transit programs.

"I believe the big game changer is electric vehicles and plug-in technology," said Newsom, explaining that transportation accounts for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California and exceeds 54 percent in San Francisco.

Widespread usage of electric vehicles over two decades would save consumers $175 billion in fuel costs and bring a $120 billion boon for battery makers, according to early results of a study by the Venture Lab at the University of California at Berkeley.

"Look what happened when we built ARPANET in 1979," said Robert Kennedy Jr., describing the rise of the personal computer. "The reason for that is we created the infrastructure that made it easy for manufacturers and consumers to take advantage of the technology." Kennedy is partner and senior adviser of VantagePoint Venture Partners, the biggest investor in Better Place.

In statements, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi praised the electric vehicle announcements for the potential to boost the economy and reduce pollution.