Friday, January 27, 2012

Is Israel Making the Electric Car Work?

On a winter day of pounding rain, quite uncharacteristic for Israel, a convoy of 80 completely electric, battery-powered cars drove from Rosh Ha'ayin on Israel's eastern border through Tel Aviv. On the outside, the autos are perfectly normal Renault sedans built in Turkey. Yet they don't require a drop of gasoline pumped by countries that hate the Jewish state.
The cars run on an air-cooled 230 kilogram (500 pound) lithium ion battery, an electric motor, and a sophisticated electronic control system. Where Israeli ingenuity comes in: these "Better Place" cars differ from electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf — a depleted battery can be swapped for a full one in about four minutes. The Renault ZE is also larger than the Nissan or the Chevy, sized more like a Honda Accord — a real, practical family car.
The car is not made in Israel, which is a pity but not a disaster. The intellectual jobs and the creation of the most valuable intellectual property remain in Israel. There are numerous advances under the skin that make this a truly viable alternative to gasoline, especially in a compact country like Israel and many European countries.
Here's the irony: without massive subsidies by the American taxpayer and overpriced, substandard government-mandated technology, electric cars may be becoming practical. The free market still works best.

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