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Israel launches electric-car program

Renault-Nissan, Project Better Place, and the government of Israel announce plan to bring electric cars to the country.

Correction 10:35 a.m. PST: This blog initially misidentified the prime minister of Israel. He is Ehud Olmert. It also misidentified the person whose speech can be found on the Project Better Place Web site--it is by Shai Agassi--and as such an earlier version of this post also incorrectly attributed a quote from that speech.

Renault-Nissan, the government of Israel, and an electric charging station start-up founded by Shai Agassi are mounting an effort to make electric cars part of ordinary life in Israel in the next decade.

Project Better Place, Agassi's organization, will try to build 500,000 electric charging stations in the country, according to the organization. At some these stations, attendants will swap out depleted batteries and put in fully charged ones. This saves the several hours typically required to charge a lithium-ion battery pack made for cars. (You can also charge the batteries at home.) Renault-Nissan, meanwhile, will ship electric cars to the country in three years or so. Ultimately, the company hopes to ship 10,000 to 20,000 a year.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, and Agassi in Israel on Monday. Agassi's speech can be found on the Project Better Place site.

Israel has been considered Project Better Place's likely starting point. Agassi is an Israeli and the bulk of the company's $200 million in funds comes from investors in Israel. The country also relies on imported oil yet it remains locked in conflict with several Arab oil-exporting nations. Agassi in an interview last year said the organization was concentrating on islands, but added that an island can be part of a continent and isolated in other ways.

Israel is also small, which makes it an easier market for electric cars as well as companies building electric charging stations. Electric cars can only go so far without a charge or a new battery. Ghosn said that the company's cars would go about 100 kilometers (45 miles) in the city and 160 kilometers (72 miles) on the highway on a charge, according to a Reuters story. Some surveys in the U.S. say buyers generally want to see a 200-mile range on an electric car. The relatively short range of electric cars has been one of the primary reasons they haven't moved into the mainstream, according to electric car execs, battery execs, and some academics. With all the major cities crammed pretty close to each other as in Israel, the range problem shrinks.

Among large car makers, Renault-Nissan is one of the more aggressive when it comes to fully electric cars. At Tokyo's Ceatec conference in October, Nissan execs told CNET that the company wants to start to put out fully electric cars by 2011 or 2012.

The cars will run on batteries being developed under a deal between Renault-Nissan and NEC.