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shai.jpgWhen Shai Agassi departed software giant SAP AG in March, it surprised many people because he was on track to become chief executive of the giant company.

He left declaring bold plans to help convert his native Israel and its neighbor Jordan into gasoline-free economies with nationwide electronic transportation systems. It was a noble vision.

Well, now he’s already emerged, leading a new Silicon Valley company to make electric cars, backed with a whopping $200 million in initial funding from Israel Corp., an Israel-based oil, trade and shipping conglomerage (which invested $100 million), VantagePoint Venture Partners and others.

The WSJ has the scant details available on the still-stealth, Palo Alto, Calif., company code-named Better Place, which already employs ten.

According to the piece, Agassi wants to use existing battery technologies, which are enough to get cars to go about 100 miles before recharging. The twist: Instead of making customers pay for the car and the expensive battery, they’d pay only for the car.

Meanwhile, his company would buy and own the batteries, and charge the car owner a monthly subscription fee to recharge the batteries. It would also set up a network of service centers to charge the batteries. It’s not clear whether this will substantially reduce costs, because someone would still have to pay the cost of dealing with the batteries, and the cost leaves electric cars still more expensive than conventional cars. But at least it takes away some of the stress on consumers who balk when they consider the complication of having to replace batteries every few years.

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