To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the pending bailout of Detroit automakers. Philosophically I’m opposed to it, as the bed-sharing and hand-holding of industry and government has done little good and plenty bad in the past. In practice it’s not that simple, as millions of jobs and entire city and state economies are at stake. Regardless of what happens with the bailout, though, it’s become clear that true innovation in the automotive industry, which is necessary and long overdue, will not be born in conference rooms in Detroit or on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rather, true innovation and progress will come from start-ups across the world focused on redesigning not only the car, but the entire transportation system.
I’ve written before about my love for Zipcar and other car sharing programs, but it’s going to take more than car sharing to make a dent in the way people think about cars. Tesla Motors is selling the most impressive electric car, but it retails for $109,000, and doesn’t solve the problem of recharging remotely. Zenn, Fisker, Venturi, Th!nk and others are all selling (or planning to sell) electric cars as well, but they all succumb to the same problem of remote recharging. What’s needed is not just a new car, as I said, but a new infrastructure.
As a proud San Francisco resident, I was happy to read this morning that the Bay Area has signed on with Better Place to do just that- create a vast network of recharging stations and battery exchange stations throughout the region. Better Place, based in Palo Alto, has developed a unique subscription model, similar to the model employed by most cell-phone companies. By subscribing to a certain mileage plan, buyers will get electric vehicles at a discounted price (even free in some markets!), making the barrier to entry much lower than other cars. And with 250,000 charging stations and 200 battery exchange stations throughout the region, buyers won’t have to worry about running out of juice on a trip to Ikea. Better Place has already signed similar deals in Australia, Israel and Denmark, and will hopefully continue to spread their networks throughout the world, saving money, emissions and our all-too-precious petroleum.
Take that, Detroit.
via Mercury News