Who Killed the Electric Car…Again?
Who Killed the Electric Car? It’s the title and central question of a 2006 documentary film about the future of transportation technology. While we may despise the pollution and subsequent climate changes resulting from the internal combustion engines in almost every vehicle we drive today, replacing the centuries-old technology has proven challenging to say the least. The power, versatility, longevity and easy refueling that we take for granted in our gas-guzzling monsters cannot be easy duplicated. How long does it take to fill your car with gas? 5, maybe 7, minutes? How long does it take to charge the battery in your cell phone? An hour, maybe 2? Imagine the size of the battery you would need to drive a car. That is not something you can just plug into your laptop while you’re at work and be ready to go by 6.
In 2008 an Israeli company, Better Place, thought it had the solution (unsurprisingly – Israel is a hub of technological advancement). Build a series of gas station-like kiosks across the country that, rather than pumping a car full of gasoline, would swap out the battery in your car; charging stations could be installed in a variety of locations, including your own home. This way electric cars could go on longer trips and be easily replenished. By building and expanding an infrastructure of green energy sources like wind and solar to accompany the charging of these cars, we could cut down on our dependence on coal and other dirty energy source for electricity. Take the idea to scale and suddenly there is a scalable plan to have all the cars, busses and trucks in the country running on green energy!
Unfortunately, after 5 years and $850 million, Better Place announced it is shutting down and liquidating its assets to cover its accumulated debt of about $560 million. It is sad to see such an ambitious and potentially world-changing endeavor end without meeting its full potential. According to the press release, the market was not able to support the business model. Car manufacturers were understandably cautious about transitioning away from gasoline when the infrastructure for batteries was still in its infancy – to say nothing of the fact that standardized removable batteries for all vehicles would have significant design implications.
The electric car is probably not dead, but it is on life support. Perhaps somewhere down the road we will see this idea or some variation of it resurface. Obviously, internal combustion technology will have to be retired at some point, and the sooner the better.