Part 1: Better Place Israel Experience Center: Did I Just Drive Our Future?


By @autobusiness

In the birthplace of monotheism – where the scriptures that formed the foundations of western culture tell of divine intervention and retribution – lays a truly heavenly assortment of desert flowers and blushing greenery, beautifying the once-lifeless landscape.

On our recent family trip to Israel, the vibrant flora was an ever-present reminder of the power of human will. Although Israel finds itself atop a Mediterranean desert, it’s lush and unexpectedly well shaded. It was only when we returned home to the bursting Canadian spring and the dense layers of Edmonton’s river valley succession that Israel’s precisely placed plantings looked so retrospectively sparse. Israel might have tall trees and dazzling flowers, but the majority of the country’s lawns seemed confined to the steep-as-a-double-black-diamond Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. That the country’s vegetation felt as natural as it at the time did speaks to the the desire of the Jewish people to bring as much of Old Europe to their new home as possible.

Had you visited Israel without visiting the tree-lined cities, and never seen the Bedouin-dotted patches of crusty rock that nestled between lemon and olive plantations, you’d never notice the unforgiving wasteland that lies beneath the Jewish civility. In the cities, thick, vine-covered trees shade popular streets, like Tel Aviv’s boutique-lined Dizengoff where my fiancée found her wedding dress. Between every building palm trees hide, boxed in though they are by graffiti and wrought iron window bars. If the past six decades had accomplished no more than vegetative abundance in the middle of the desert, dayenu. But there’s so much more.

There’s Israel’s automotive future. And perhaps ours as well.

The Middle Circle.

What does it look like? It looks like independence: a clean break from convention. In a country out-flanked and out-numbered since birth, invention is a way of life. This is a country that earns its keep by innovating, particularly in technological industries that rely more on ideas than materials. Like Asimov’s Second Foundation, the high cost of raw materials forces creativity to flourish like the jubilant Gonocytisus pterocladus. Instead of personal force fields, however, Israel’s newest car company is reinventing the energy industry and, along with it, personal transportation too. The company, Better Place, is really going for it.

Better Place isn’t the best student of history, however, having skipped the sermons denouncing electric propulsion and its boat-anchor charging points. Instead, Better Place took those sermons, crumpled them into little balls, and practiced its free throws. The result is an entirely new modus operandi that doesn’t hang around for a quantum leap in battery chemistry.

Charging points, no matter the battery capacity and charging speed, were never going to be the answer. As founder Shai Agassi reminds us in his interview with Wired, for a battery with a 300 mile range to charge in 3 minutes, we’d need 1.5 megawatts of power, or the equivalent of 750 apartments turning on and off all their appliances simultaneously. That would fry even the most capable and flexible electricity grids. This is important: Charging points alone aren’t going to work. (Ok, Messrs. Leaf and i3?). So in addition to charging points, Better Place establishes a network of Battery Switch Stations that robotically fondle the underside of your electric car, swap out the dead battery and replace it with a fresh battery, all in 5 minutes flat.

It’s different, yet simple. But as we know, in a global and largely capitalist marketplace, an idea alone is insufficient. This revolutionary idea is no better than the skipped sermon basketballs if it isn’t cost effective, easy-to-use, and marketed well. We aren’t going to make the switch to an electric car unless we’re convinced that it’ll be better than what we’re already using, all while remaining essentially familiar. No amount of morally superior preaching will be enough to convert us, even if that preaching is coming from the Holy Land. It just has to work right out of the box.

As with every car ownership experience, the real pitch begins with the dealership. We visited the Better Place’s dealership-that-isn’t, their “Experience Center”, to find out if they could sell my brother, my parents, my fiancée, and yours truly on the very un-Albertan notion of electric motoring.

Did it work? Check back tomorrow to find out.

[Photos: author]