FUTURE TECHNOLOGY: Small and cheap? Think electric – Israel plan to checkmate Arabs with petroleum-free transport by 2020 holds a message for India’s Nano – good enough for the hills too ?!!
Tel Aviv, Aug. 11: Tata Nano, beware! The future is here! With almost everyone paying no more than lip service to the idea of reducing global dependence on petroleum products since the “oil shock” of 1973, Israel is taking steps that may eventually wipe off the affluence of the sheikhs in the Gulf and blunt the only strategic weapon that the Arabs have in their fight for influence on the global stage, namely their energy resources.
Big plans are afoot here which could one day make petrol and diesel-run automobiles obsolete and replace them with electric cars just as manual typewriters have been rendered obsolete by computers and teleprinters, and fax machines have been overtaken by various forms of electronic communication.
Israel has “set itself a goal of making our lives better and cleaner… completely free of petroleum and its by-products as the fuel which powers transportation” by 2020, its then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had declared in 2008.
In pursuit of that goal, Better Place, an Israeli company, in collaboration with Renault of France and Nissan of Japan, will make electric cars commercially available in a big way for use on roads in Israel next year.
Fifty-seven per cent of Israeli drivers would immediately switch to electric cars if they were available in the market because they are concerned about dependence on oil, according to a recent poll here by IPSOS, a market research company, that was undertaken preparatory to the launch of electric cars produced with technology from Better Place.
A whopping 88 per cent of Israeli drivers want to test-drive electric vehicles as soon as they are available with car dealers with a view to switching from petrol and diesel-fuelled cars.
Like most initiatives in Israel, things are not what they appear to be on the surface. The drive to make electric cars is being projected here largely as an effort to tackle vehicular pollution and climate change and to develop renewable energy, but clearly this is a strategic drive to checkmate Arabs in Israel’s disputes with them since the day the Jewish state was founded 62 years ago.
In discussions on-record and on background, decision-makers here concede that no Arab country any longer poses a significant military threat to Israel, but oil continues to give Israel’s adversaries global strategic strength from Ottawa to Osaka, power which Israel wants to blunt.
This is obvious because the effort here to ultimately make petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles obsolete is not confined to Israel, but is planned on a global scale.
Next year, along with Israel, Renault Fluence electric cars will be on the roads in Denmark, where anti-Arab and anti-Muslim feelings are running high after the country suffered severe commercial and diplomatic after-effects of publishing cartoons depicting images of Prophet Muhammad.
India, for instance, asked Denmark’s Prime Minister to postpone his visit to New Delhi after the cartoons infuriated Muslims worldwide.
In Denmark, the marketing effort for electric cars is also a case study in using politics to advance business. The Danes are obsessed with going green.
So, Better Place demonstrated its sense of timing when the company launched its publicity blitz for its automobile revolution in the run-up to last year’s Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, when every Dane was keen to prove that he was doing something at a personal level to cut emissions or tackle global warming in some way.
The company has hit a potential jackpot in Denmark, where tax breaks for electric cars make them 180 per cent — yes, 180 per cent — cheaper than petrol and diesel-run vehicles.
Having tantalised the Danish market, partners in Israel’s electric car project, led by Renault in this instance, twisted the arms of the government in Copenhagen to extend the tax break by five years, according to a report in The Copenhagen Post.
At the time the arm-twisting began, “as part of the government’s green energy initiative, it was decided that electric vehicles would not be subject to the normal vehicle registration tax of 180 per cent (only) until 2012”, the newspaper reported.
In Tokyo, three Nissan Rogue taxis, converted into electric cars, have been plying the streets of the city since April as a pilot project by Better Place to test the possibilities of putting more such cabs in Japan’s taxi fleet.
In California, Better Place, which is registered as a Silicon Valley company, is hoping to install by 2012 a $1-billion electric car infrastructure system that will make it possible for people to drive such vehicles on a regular basis.
In April, China’s largest automobile producer, Chery Automobiles, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate with Better Place on electric vehicle technology. China is now the world’s largest auto market and potentially the largest in history with only 2 per cent of its huge population owning cars.
In a pointer to which way automobile technology is headed in the future, Chery’s vice-president said “we have closely followed Better Place for nearly two years” before signing the MoU, according to a press release.
China’s decision to seriously look at putting electric cars on its roads is, perhaps, the best rationale for India to follow suit because of the similarities in their transportation challenges.
Equally, it would make sense for Tata Nano, which attracted world-wide attention two years ago with its promise of a car revolution of another kind, to look at electric vehicles (EV) technology from Israel to extend its promise to make cars affordable to more Indians at lesser pressure on the resources of nature.
Staff at Better Place conceded that India is ideally suited for using EV technology because of the country’s big potential for non-conventional energy sources, but this requires commitment and discipline of the Israeli kind.
When electric cars are put on Israel’s roads next year, they will be run on batteries which are mostly switched or charged by solar power. But then, Israel is already the world’s leader in the use of solar energy.
More than 90 per cent of Israeli homes have solar water heaters. According to David Faiman, a physicist who has been working on Israel’s transition to solar power, 60 to 70 per cent of electricity used by Israelis could be free by 2030, using solar sources, with consumers paying only nominally for the cost of operation and maintenance.