Bloggers here are excited about Better Place, as the Japanese government announced Tuesday that consumers will be able to swap depleted batteries for fresh ones easily when they don't have time to plug in. Thomas Friedman calls it a new way to generate mobility. Starting with municipal fleets, the program is the first step toward electrifying Japan's vehicles. The Japanese Environment Ministry invited Better Place to take part in the feasibility project for up to six months starting in January in several cities, starting with Yokohama, south west of Tokyo.
"Better Place is honored to participate in this groundbreaking program in a country with so much auto-manufacturing expertise," said Shai Agassi, the entrepreneur behind the venture. "Japan is moving one step closer to the next-generation, Car 2.0 model of electric cars fueled by renewable energy."
Better Place is the only foreign company invloved in this pilot project. The California company joins Subaru and Mitsubishi and others who aim to help the Japanese government get on the road toward toward its goal: half of all cars sold by 2020 will be electric.
Better Place has a vision: a network of "smart" charging spots. Drivers can plug in anywhere, anytime, and pay for it through a subscription much like a cell phone plan. You pay for unlimited miles or a fixed number of miles, or opt to pay as you go:
When customers can't wait to charge up, they can go to automated battery exchange stations where depleted batteries are swapped for fresh ones in about the time it takes to fill a tank with gas. It wouldn't cost a cent because although customers would own the cars, the ERGO would own the batteries.
Japan's Ministry of the Environment asked Better Place and local automakers to join a pilot project that will bring electric cars and a charging infrastructure to four prefectures in Japan beginning in January, 2009. The cars include the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Subaru Plug-In Stella and a new electric motorcycle called the Erzero.
Electric car blogger Green Post notes that this project is very appealing while Ozaku is delighted that Japan is moving fast, ahead of others. Greener World wonders is this isn't very typical of the United States; while the three big automakers in Detroit get a massive bailout, new, attractive ideas are appearing on the West Coast.
Still, I have to say I agree with Treehugger Karin Kloosterman, writing for The Huffington Post, who has followed this story as it evolved: this is not the solution, unless we also get people to "ride their bikes, walk to work where possible, work from home or ride share where possible."
Written by Martin Frid at greenz.jp