Weekly Roundup: Electric Vehicles in Israel

In this weekly summary, we look at the biggest stories of the past seven days, separating real developments in the world of automotive technology and fuels—from wishful thinking and vehicle vaporware.

Expect It: Electric Vehicles in Israel

You can accomplish a lot with $200 million. That’s the sum raised by Shai Agassi, a Silicon Valley executive who left a fast-track career at software giant SAP to start his own company focused on electric vehicles. Last week the company, called Project Better Place, announced a deal with Renault-Nissan and the Israeli government to put electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads in Israel in just three years.

Project Better Place will provide a network of 500,000 charging stations for the vehicles, while Renault-Nissan will provide the lithium-ion-battery powered EVs, and the state of Israel will approve import and sales tax policies that improve the economics of the electric vehicle. While it’s easy to announce ambitious plans for EVs, it’s much harder to actually make things happen. The employees of Project Better Place, who have little experience with EVs or charging infrastructure, have their work cut out for them. But what makes this effort unique is its partnership between senior policymakers, an auto company, and an infrastructure provider. Even Carlos Ghosn, head of Renault-Nissan and a persistent skeptic of advanced powertrains, is on board, explaining that this is the first case of an EV market that makes financial sense for everyone involved.

With its trifecta of support, we expect to see Project Better Place’s plan implemented in Israel, at least on a limited scale. Whether the plan can be replicated in other countries is another story.

Doubt It: BMW’s Green Brand

Last week a member of the BMW board confirmed that the company was discussing adding a fourth brand to the company’s portfolio—complimenting Mini, BMW, and Rolls-Royce—that would offer “green” vehicles. Until now, the company has been rolling out green technologies in its BMW models: examples include the limited-availability hydrogen-powered 7-series and the concept X6 ActiveHybrid. BMW has also been increasing the overall fuel efficiency of its entire lineup through its “Efficient Dynamics” program, which adds unexciting but effective features such as electric power steering and radiator vents with improved aerodynamics.

But the BMW brand is having something of an identity crisis, and executives are unsure whether its performance-oriented image melds well with environmental sensibility, or whether it even needs to. It’s not clear that BMW really understands what environmental vehicles are about. The Hydrogen 7, a V12-powered 7-series fueled with liquid hydrogen, is a good example. The Hydrogen 7 may have low tailpipe emissions, but its poor fuel efficiency and use of energy-intensive liquid hydrogen means it does a poor job of reducing greenhouse gases. Expect to see BMW continue to do what it does best, which is building cars that go fast.

Forget It: GM and Ethanol

General Motors’ product guru Bob Lutz reiterated GM’s support for ethanol at the Automotive News World Congress last week. Lutz explained that E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, offered the best near-term solution to reducing U.S. oil consumption while GM (and other automakers) ready their electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid offerings.

As if to underscore Lutz’s message, GM also announced last week that it had invested in Illinois-based ethanol producer Coskata. Unlike current ethanol producers that make their fuel from corn, Coskata is perfecting technology for cellulosic ethanol, which is made from a broad set of feedstocks like grass, forest thinnings, wood chips, and agricultural waste. Independent analysis of Coskata’s fuel shows that it decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 84% relative to conventional gasoline. Coskata also claims its proprietary process, which uses gasification and bacteria to convert raw material into ethanol, will yield ethanol for less than $1/gallon. So what’s not to like?

Making flex-fuel vehicles that are E-85-capabale is a tactic automakers have used for years to obtain higher fuel economy ratings under CAFE, particularly for light-trucks. Few of these vehicles ever run on ethanol, a problem that GM and others place squarely on the shoulders of fuel producers and retailers. Yet even as GM touts ethanol, its flex-fuel vehicle offerings remain limited. In 2008 the company offers just one car—the Chevy Impala—that uses E85; the other flex-fuel vehicles are light trucks, all of which use the same thirsty 5.3L V8 engine. When GM makes its entire lineup E85-capable, we’ll know they’re serious about ethanol. Until then, announcements like their Coskata partnership are little more than interesting science projects.

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  • Old Man Crowder

    Go Israel! Between bombing their neighbours and trying not to get bombed themselves, I’m a little surprised that they have the time, inclination and the infrastructure for such an undertaking.

    Still…How cool would it be to stick it to the U.S.? “Deny peak oil all you want, but we’re movin’ on, suckas!”

  • Armand

    “I’m a little surprised that they have the time, inclination and the infrastructure for such an undertaking.”

    Why are you surprised? They are biggest bunch of “cry wolf” group in the world. Between manipulating the dumb US public, owning the government through their evangelical/AIPAC lobbying, and having their fingers in the biggest of all major banks and corporations, you want me to feel sorry for them?

    Haha…being bombed….what is thrown over their fence is a drop of water compared to what they’ve done to people on the other side. Yeah…really..it’s no wonder they can..they live a pretty normal lifestyle if you ask me.

  • reviewz

    Are you kidding me? The Israelis have it much harder off than americans. Imagine rockets being lobbed into your backyard everyday. And yet even with all the difficuties it faces Israel remains a hub of development for science and technology. The US couldn’t get their act together as usual, so a much more competent government did. This is a huge step forward in the race for electric vehicles in which Israel is obviously going to be a front runner. Go Israel!

  • moish

    at least 1 country has the brains & guts to wean itself from terrorist oil

  • Armand

    NO I’m not kidding. I don’t think you realize just how much money and help Israel gets. If there ever was a funnel of money you could see with the naked eye, it’d be all going to Israel. Being the hub of science and technology doesn’t happen out of thin air and out of the goodness of the hearts of people…it’s money. And Israel gets plenty of MY hard earned tax dollars I’m sure.

    With all the crying they do, it doesn’t have as hard as you think. While over a million and a half people are living in the world’s biggest concentration camp next door, Israelis can have a nice cup of coffee.

    Terrorist oil? Uhhhh…the “terrorists” didn’t start drilling for oil back in the 50s and 60s pal. Since you don’t know I’ll tell you…the US and England did. Terrorist oil…lol…man it’s no wonder people are so clueless about that region..so much blatent lying and deceit about what’s happening is why. You know what they say….the victor writes the history books…how true.

  • reviewz

    Ever since Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, the country has faced obstacles in political and economic arenas and has still managed to take the lead on fighting terrorism, protecting religious freedom, and now global warming. And with little help foreign treasuries. Only recently in the last few decades has the state of Israel received financial and military assistance from foreign coffers. Take the 1967 war for example, Israel fought off the combined armies of Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, plus troops from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Algeria on its own. Even now, apart from the United States, many western European countries and the UN have left the small but powerful state to fend for itself.

    The world’s biggest concentration camp! No, the world’s biggest concentration camps were the Nazi’s concentration camps, where 4,400,000 people were either killed or imprisoned in Auschwitz, Warsaw, and Dachau alone. Only people who were persecuted by the Nazis now what it is like to live in a concentration camp. There have been mistakes on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but Israel has a right to defend itself, a right to exist! Many of the various governments that have controlled the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been sworn to Israel’s destruction, Israel had to defend itself. Now Israel is taking the lead on one of the most pressing issues of the century, global warming, in an arena where many of the other nations that are “funneling money” are lagging behind.

  • greenleafguy1

    Nozferatu is a friggin’ anti-semite

  • electrified

    Nozferatu, your tax dollars are going straight to Iraq and to the Bush admistration’s investsments in oil and natural gas. One place they are not going is to investments in green technology.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Wow. Didn’t mean to touch off such a heated political debate. I should have just focussed on the positive news.

  • Carol Lv

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Last year, China’s auto sales hit 18.06 million units, up 32.37 percent from the previous year. Of all the automobiles sold last year, 10% were clean-energy vehicles. With the implementation of encouragement policies by the central and local governments, China is expected to have over 10 million units of clean-energy vehicles by year 2020, the largest number in the world.

    To help clean-energy vehicle manufacturers and the related businesses to tap further into this enormous market, BMC China Exhibition Co., Ltd., a Sino-German joint venture, is going to hold China International Clean-Energy Vehicles Exhibition 2011 (CEV-China 2011) from October 11 to 13, 2011 in New China International Exhibition Center in Beijing.

    The exhibition will have an area of 38,000 square meters and we expect to have about 400 exhibitors and over 10,000 industry visitors from home and abroad. Our company is a long-term partner of CNPC, Sinopec and CNOOC, and our event is generously sponsored and supported by these three oil and gas giants in China.

    The event, which will cover Clean Energy Passenger Vehicles, Clean Energy Buses, Charging Stations, Core Products and Technologies and High-end Clean Energy Cars, will be a great opportunity for the participants to display their products and technologies, establish relations with potential buyers, business partners and high ranking governmental officials who may be important for their further business development in China.

    We warmly invite you to participate in this exhibition. For detailed information about our event, please visit http://www.cicev.com/info/en/

    Looking forward to your replay

    Best regards

    Carol Lv
    Sales Manager
    BMC China Co., Ltd.
    Address: Suite 2309, Global Trade Center, 36 Dongsanhuan M. Rd., Dongcheng Dist., Beijing, China 100013
    Tel.: +86 10 58256560 ext. 613;
    Mobile: +86 10 13601079234
    Fax: +86 10 58256580;