Electric Innovation

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Better Place logoChanging consumer behavior can be a slow painful process.  Not only does it require educational efforts but often widespread systemic conformity is required. However innovation has radically altered some of our most fundamental behaviors.

Globally, we now access cash from a machine and we carry and use mobile phones for a significant percentage of our calling.  Its this type of basic change that will be required to have significant impact on socially and environmentally responsible consumption habits.

Shai Agassi has just such aspirations.  The electric car has been the talk of the town at the Detroit auto show this year but Shai’s concept is the most intriguing and well thought out.  In this week’s Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria talks to Shai about his idea for a Better Place in “Switched-On Highways”.    Shai does exactly what is necessary for radical innovation – he flips the approach.  Instead of framing the problem as “how to build a better car”, he frames it as “how to run a country without oil”.  He takes an ambitious approach that looks at both the infrastructure, the model of ownership and of course, the power source.

Return to electricity

Even with oil returning to under $50 a barrel, Shai’s new model is betting on the electric car to remove our dependency and make the switch to clean electricity.  With the required infrastructure in place, the cost ends up somewhere between six and eight cents per mile which is motivation in and of itself, even if oil got down to $25 a barrel.

The razor model

Taking a page from the razor, printer and video game model, he has also separated the car from its core function – the electric battery.   A truly radical idea when it comes to car ownership but one that makes a lot of sense.   The basis for this is the need to re-charge batteries after they drain all of their power.  This drops the price of the car and its operation even further and makes acquisition a lot more appealing.

Leveraging existing behavior

But what’s important about this model is that it leverages our existing and well-established behavior of stopping at the “gas” station.  For long haul driving – or even for convenience during a normal day of driving – it doesn’t make sense to have to stop and re-charge an electric battery when it’s run out of its juice.  So, Shai proposes switching stations where you just pick up a fully charged battery.

There are flaws in this model but radical innovation generally doesn’t happen perfectly the first time.  What is exciting about the Better Place concept is that it addresses consumer behavior from the get-go.   Plugging an electric car into your own garage sounds exciting but offering a car at a reduced price with the “benefit” of a switching station somehow puts the consumer at ease simply by offering them the comfort of a long-held tradition. Eventually we’ll get to fully plugged in at-home cars (cuz after all we all hate to stop at the gas station), but first Shai has to get them to buy the cars.

And the really exciting thing….California is already set to begin adoption of a Better Place this year!

Image Credit: Better Place logo by techpulse360 on Creative Commons

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