Thursday, May 27, 2010
Israeli roadside battery chargers headed to Ontario
Ontario Premier Dalton Mcguinty meets with Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, after testing a prototype of an electric Renault Laguna in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. Agassi, who is launching a nationwide network of electrical charging ports and battery switching stations in Israel next year, is bringing Better Place to Ontario in the next few years.
Robert Benzie/Toronto Star
TEL AVIV – Premier Dalton McGuinty took a spin in Israel’s car of tomorrow before road-testing a message of hope as he heads to the West Bank to meet Palestinian officials.
McGuinty on Wednesday drove a prototype Renault Laguna, the world’s first electric car with an easily switchable battery, at Better Place, which is building a nationwide network of charging stations here.
“It’s an exciting concept, it’s a responsible concept. It’s one that’s going to prove to be a benefit to the economy and to the environment,” he said at the company’s testing centre on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
The Israeli firm, which is partnering with Nissan-Renault, will open a similar facility in Toronto in 2011 and put some experimental electric taxis on city streets to get Ontarians accustomed to them.
“We believe that by 2020 the majority of new cars added to the road will be electric cars,” said Better Place founder and CEO Shai Agassi.
“There’s mostly an economic driver. While we would like to think that environment would drive the change, at the end of the day consumers drive change and consumers pick the most convenient and most affordable cars they can buy,” said Agassi, whose high-tech cars will be available to Israelis starting in mid-2011.
Switching stations and plug-in chargers at shopping malls and business will be built throughout Israel – and be coming to Ontario sooner rather than later.
“Most of the people working in Toronto live within a span of an hour to an hour and a half from the city. If you live further than that, you’re an exception, you’re not the rule. It’s mostly focused on the suburban driver,” Agassi said of the cars. The cars can be “trickle-charged” overnight or have their batteries replaced at a switching station in just minutes.
“You can actually change the battery in this thing ... much faster than it takes to refuel your car,” McGuinty said.
Later Wednesday, McGuinty flew to Eilat, near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Egypt, where he toured a high-tech solar energy facility before delivering a speech to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies on the Kibbutz Ketura.
The premier—who has carefully avoided wading into the Middle East political quagmire during his trade mission, including in meetings with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—gently broached the subject of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“I was talking to someone around Jerusalem and they were telling me they don’t dig any more, because if they dig they’re going to find something. If they find something, they have to take responsibility for it. It’s too complicated,” he quipped to laughter from the students.
Striking a more serious tone, McGuinty, who will visit Ramallah and Bethlehem on Thursday, said “our differences make us interesting, but what’s important is what we have in common and that’s our humanity.”
“If you and I were to knock on 100 doors in any part of the world and if we were to ask families, ‘What’s most important to you?’ I believe those families would all say the same thing,” the premier said.
“They would say: ‘We want a good education for our kids, we want good health care for our families, we want good jobs so we can enjoy a good standard of living, we want to live in a world that is at peace, we want an environment that is safe and healthy,’” he said.
“Those simple, fundamental human aspirations are shared by people everywhere on the planet.”
Student Ikram Salah, 31, who nodded in agreement as McGuinty spoke, said the Arava Institute is “a unique place to meet people from other cultures, from other religions.”
“For me, it’s the first time to meet Jewish people. It’s a good chance just to make sure that we can make something for (the) future,” said Salah.
Toronto’s Leora Smith, 22, who is Jewish, agreed the school is “an interesting place.”
“The friendships here are really strong even though the politics are often different,” said Smith.