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GE will team up with electric vehicle (EV) services startup Better Place to roll out a host of financing and technology initiatives aimed at encouraging widespread adoption of electric vehicles, the two companies announced today.
The key components of the deal: GE’s car-charging station, the WattStation (pictured below), will be made compatible with Better Place’s global network of charging stations and services. GE will also lend its financial heft to help finance the purchase of 10,000 electric car batteries in Israel and Denmark, the initial markets where Better Place is rolling out its services. Electrification of corporate fleets and consumer education efforts will also be targeted.
Overall, the collaboration with GE will help Better Place scale up its global operations more quickly, the company said.
Better Place offers charging stations that are networked to various tools that allow EV drivers to track charging status and plan longer trips that would map out where drivers need to stop and recharge – or use a battery switch station (pictured above), in which a depleted battery is swapped out for a fully-charged one. The WattStation will be integrated so that all of those stations are included and searchable within Better Place’s overall network.
“One cannot underestimate the importance of roaming in this industry,” said Better Place executive Amit Nisenbaum, referring to the ability of EV owners to drive outside the typical 100-mile range of the car. “Convenience is one of the adoption drivers.”
The integration with the Better Place network also seems to be part of GE’s efforts to get more adoption of the WattStation, which it unveiled in July. Hot on its heels was the debut of Coulomb’s home charger. Coulomb, a company with a similar vision to Better Place, also operates a network of charging stations and has made headway in the U.S. — it is currently rolling out 4,600 of its ChargePoint stations across the country.
Another unique component of the GE/Better Place deal is the battery financing. The companies prioritized financing of the 10,000 electric car battery purchases because Better Place’s strategy includes separating ownership of the vehicle from the ownership of the battery. Battery costs continue to be a major consumer and automaker concern.
“The hope is they’ll be more willing to buy the car … because they’ve not put all the financial risk into that (battery),” said Julie Mullins, company spokeswoman.
By owning the battery outright, the company can also provide feedback to utilities about the charging behavior of EV owners, helping them better predict how to efficiently dispatch energy.
And in both companies’ push to get the world to sign onto electrified vehicles, they will target fleet owners. GE is a key player in this part of the deal — it manages over 1.6 million cars in fleets and has considerable knowledge of the market.
Corporations with fleets of delivery trucks or rental cars are prime targets for electrification – getting owners of multiple cars to go electric essentially makes for more birds killed with one stone. There’s certainly interest in fleet electrification. Frito Lay, for example, has said it wants to create the largest fleet of electric trucks in the country. Earlier this month, it started by rolling out five Smith Electric delivery trucks in New York City, and it plans to add 176 more over the next year and a half. Car rental service Hertz has committed to buying Nissan Leafs, the first mass-produced all-electric car set to hit the roads come December. And Better Place just extended a battery-swap trial with a fleet of electric taxis in Japan.
Better Place’s strategy is to test its services in smaller countries – Israel and Denmark – and then expand. It has a planned pilot project in Canberra, Australia, for late 2011, with plans to expand along the eastern coast of the country in 2012. There are also projects in the works for California’s Bay Area, Hawaii and Ontario.
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