September 30, 2007

Who killed the internal combustion engine? Shai Agassi, Israeli.

The electric car is being resurrected. Amid the global threats of pollution, oil funded terrorism, and ‘peak oil’, the Western world is looking to replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable sources of energy.

Cornucopians are becoming extinct; scientists, engineers, politicians, and oil tycoons have recognized that we have used 50% of the world’s oil supply in less than 150 years, and with China and India ramping up their industrial economies we may run out of our most used energy source in far less time. A full circle energy solution would include fully renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric along with efficient machines to plug into those systems. In other words, the West desperately needs a futuristic approach to life without oil. Enter Israel.

A country minuscule in size and barren of natural resources, Israel has succeeded in defending herself from a barrage of existential military threats while becoming a leader in the global economy. Great in intellectual capital, Israel has developed the world’s largest solar power plant (from which PG&E has agreed to purchase 553 megawatts of power, enough power for 400,000 Bay Area homes), as well as the world’s largest water desalination plant. She has the greatest number of companies listed on the NASDAQ other than the United States and Canada, has raised the greatest amount of venture capital funds second to Silicon Valley, and has the greatest number of scientific research papers published per capita.

The latest project comes from an Israeli who wants to use Israel’s ‘gift of enterprising’ to help humanity wean off of oil. Shai Agassi, former executive at German software enterprise company SAP AG, is leading a new team of minds into not-so-charted territory. Agassi completed military service in Israel as a programmer for the IDF, and then earned his bachelors degree in computer science from The Technion in Haifa. Venturing into the business world, he later sold the most successful of his software startups for over $400 million to SAP, where he continued working until March 2007.

What he was up to next was first reported in August by Reuters – holding company Israel Corporation agreed to invest $100 million in Agassi’s new electric vehicle venture, pending due diligence, with several other investors; the first round funding is $200 million, bringing the total value of the venture to $300 million. The company is stealthily named BetterPLC, a reference to an automated method of manufacturing.

The electric car is a major component of the energy paradigm shift: one where the world relies mainly on renewable sources of energy, thereby reducing the human effect of global warming, shifting the currency balance away from Muslim terrorists, and declawing the menace of peak oil.

“Our goal is to get to 100,000 cars on the road in 2010,” said Agassi. He believes that since Israel has an 89% tax on vehicles, and a 100% tax on fuel, if there were zero emissions and zero fuel, there would be zero taxes on cars.

“You tell an Israeli that Israel will be the first country to eliminate the use of oil, and they sign up,” Shai said in a speech given at Stanford University. But he realizes that the electric car won’t stop in Israel, “If we can do it Israel, and it works, we can create a repeatable model that maybe then works in London… and then we can hopefully do it 50 times in China.”

And about powering the new fleet, “We actually think there is a missing entity in the automotive industry that would create, effectively, ubiquity of electrons. Ubiquity of charge. Somebody that will guarantee you that wherever you go, you can charge your car… [and] actually be cheaper for you than buying a fuel-based car.”

President Shimon Peres has reportedly told Shai’s company along with other vehicle manufacturers that the Israeli government would be willing to provide grants and tax-benefits for the construction of electric vehicle factories.

Every dollar generated by these clean energy plants is a dollar not spent on oil, and a barrel of oil not burned. This makes for a win-win situation for capitalists and for environmentalists.

Within 5 years Israel should be shipping the first electric automobile ready for mass adoption. If the Israeli car succeeds in the marketplace it will have potential to reduce anti-Semitism in the world, and further legitimize Israel’s standing.

The reputations of German and Japanese automobiles have certainly diluted American memories of old wars; if the Israeli car is as reliable as its German and Japanese competitors, then maybe it can dilute Arab memories of past wars, and be the car we all ride towards peace.

And in the future people will no longer ask who killed the electric car. They’ll ask who killed the internal combustion engine. And the answer will be: Shai Agassi, Israeli.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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