By the end of 2012, electric cars will be a definite addition to the millions of cars that already ply the streets and motorways of our planet. One of the companies pushing for the technology of electric cars, Better Place Inc, is already establishing itself as a leader by setting up an infrastructure for its vehicles. Better Place recently imported 13 Renault Fluence electric cars into Israel to test the company’s battery recharging and exchange networks being developed there. But critics say the way that customers can charge their cars is a monopoly.
The infrastructure includes special battery replacement stations set up at selected locations of the Dor Alon petrol station chain, and battery charging outlets for its versions of these electric cars; which will be provided by the French Renault-Nissan automobile manufacturing company.
While Better Place’s future seems to be “rolling” in the right direction, there is concern that the company is intent on establishing a virtual monopoly on electric cars that will be available in Israel, the country that will be Better Place’s prime testing location for the cars on a larger scale.
This concern was voiced in an article recently in the newspaper Haaretz; which said that government regulations dealing with the ability of electric car drivers to recharge the lithium ion battery pack in these cars will be allowed “only at stations specifically built for the purpose, as opposed to doing so via their home power outlets.”
The article continued by saying that “since Better Place is currently the only company building such stations, this will effectively give it a monopoly (on electric cars available in Israel).”
The Haaretz article specifically noted a document detailing plans by the Ministry of National Infrastructure, and signed by its Director of Planning and Policy, Nofia Bachar stating that:
“All electric cars imported into Israel will contain a mechanism that will block them from being charged anywhere but at charging stations. Only companies that offer charging stations and a control center will be permitted to provide electricity for the cars.”
In a small country like Israel, especially one subject to the whims of the ruling governmental administration currently in power; and one that was under the political yoke of the socialist leaning Labor Party during the first 29 years of the country’s existence, monopolies on public service utility companies has been the virtual norm.
Electricity services are still being supplied by the monopolistic Israel Electric Corporation which supplies virtually all electricity to the country’s 7.5 million inhabitants, and a good part of the electricity in the Palestinian Authority as well.
Other companies currently in the process of developing electric cars, including US automaker General Motors, are not so interested in incorporating the Better Place battery exchange center technology into their own electric models.
GM’s Chevrolet Volt electric car expected to be available sometime next year, will not feature a “swappable” battery, and may be able to be recharged by the driver by using a special adapter for his home or office electric outlet. Better Place will be selling the car to people but not the battery pack. Instead, they will be charging drivers a monthly “use fee” based on how many kilometers or miles a person drives.
To sum up, what can be considered a monopoly is how one looks at it. In the case of the dictates being drawn up by the Israeli government; and in light of Better Place being currently the only entity that will furnish battery charging and replacement facilities for electric cars, the use of the term monopoly may be closer to being the correct one.
More on Better Place and other electric cars: