Nearly six years after Israeli electric car startup Better Place went belly up, its main e-rival at the time, Tesla, has announced it will begin operations in Israel.
The Silicon Valley-based electric car leader will initially open a pop-up store in the upscale Ramat Aviv Mall to take orders for its vehicles. Its popular Model 3 will cost around ₪200,000 ($58,000). That may sound like a lot, but it would be more if Israel were not offering a highly discounted purchase tax for environmentally friendly vehicles.
Tesla also is opening an R&D center in Israel that will focus, at least at first, on scouting local startups and auto-tech technologies.
The Israeli business publication Globes reported that Tesla may hire staff to develop new technologies internally, working with Tesla’s R&D center in Palo Alto.
Globes further reported that Adi Gigi, an Israeli who has been working for Tesla in the US for several years, has been tapped to manage the Israeli operation. Gigi has degrees from Bar-Ilan University and Stanford and is a veteran of the IDF’s Mamram Computing and Information Sciences Unit.
Tesla spent $1.5 billion on R&D in 2018, double the amount it spent just two years earlier. Tesla had revenues of approximately $21.4 billion in 2018.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made several “family visits” to Israel in recent years, although insiders never believed he wasn’t here for business as well.
In other countries, car owners must use one of Tesla’s Supercharger stations when not charging at home. It’s not clear if Tesla will be building its own charging network in Israel or piggy backing on existing infrastructure.
The Israeli Energy Ministry this summer published a series of tenders to build up to 2,500 charging stations in parking lots, shopping malls and entertainment districts by the middle of 2020. The majority of these will take up to eight hours to fully power up an electric vehicle, although some reportedly will be the kind of fast chargers Tesla uses overseas.
The ministry also set a target that electric cars will comprise one-quarter of all cars sold in Israel by 2025.