Q&A with Sidney Goodman of Better Place

A founding member of Better Place, Sidney has been with the company since before its official launch in 2007.

 

Vice President of the automotive alliances group at Better Place, Sidney Goodman is responsible for overseeing relationships with automobile manufacturers, component suppliers and technical services providers. A founding member of Better Place, Sidney has been with the company since before its official launch in 2007. With more than 17 years of experience in the IT industry, Goodman held various management positions in development, consulting, alliances and strategic account sales and support. In his last role, he served in a senior staff position for the president of the product and technology group and executive board member of SAP AG. Goodman received his BA specializing in Management and Information Systems from The School of Business Administration at the College of Management in Israel.

 

Please tell our readers a little bit about Better Place and why you got involved with the company.

SIDNEY GOODMAN: Better Place aims to displace petrol-based kilometers with electric kilometers by making electric cars more affordable, more convenient and more sustainable than today’s internal combustion engine technology. We separate ownership of the electric car and the battery and treat the battery as a consumable and as part of the necessary EV infrastructure.

In our model, consumers buy an electric car just like they would normally buy an ICE car, but rather than filling up at the pump each week, they pay for a package of mobility services from Better Place at a fixed price. They also don’t pay for the battery as that’s our investment. In return, they get unlimited access to our entire network of charge spots and battery switch stations as well as an inventory of batteries to use. It basically makes owning and driving an electric car cheaper and more convenient than owning an ICE car and paying more and more at the pump each week.

I’ve been with Better Place since the very beginning. I’ve known our Founder and CEO Shai Agassi for years, and I helped Shai with the business plan for Better Place.

We’ve heard much about Shai Agassi, the founder and chief executive officer of Better Place. Please tell us a little about Agassi.

SG: Shai is a natural born leader and brilliant visionary. It’s his vision that created Better Place and compelled many of us to join the mission. We know that we’ll be successful by being true to the vision and mission that he created.


Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of Better Place.

What is the mission of Better Place? The automotive alliances group?

SG: Our mission is to enable the entire world to go electric. We see an enormous opportunity to switch the world from oil-based personal transport to electric transport. My team plays a critical role in our mission as our core function is to court and manage our relationships with car manufacturers. Renault, which has been a great partner, will produce the world’s first switchable battery electric car, the Fluence Z.E., later this year.

How do you see the world right now in terms of where we’re at with electric vehicles?

SG: What’s clear is that nearly all of the OEMs around the world have an EV strategy. That wasn’t the case 3-4 years ago. What’s also clear is that major markets like China are becoming a gravity center around EV that will influence the rest of the world. China, for example, recently named EVs as one of seven industrial pillars in its most recent five-year plan. When China goes electric everyone else will follow.

Better Place announced a strategic agreement with China Southern Power Grid Co. (CSG), the world’s eighth largest utility listed in the Fortune Global 500. The agreement focuses on joint electric car and infrastructure projects in CSG’s service areas and will further advance electric cars with switchable batteries. This calls for the companies to open a battery switch station and joint education center in Guangzhou before the end of the year, while working to formalize a joint-venture partnership. Would you tell us a little more about this strategic agreement?

SG: Utilities play an important role in our model. In China, there are only two utilities – North Grid, also known as State Grid, and China Southern Grid, our partner. We’ve seen the central government and both utilities indicate that their preferred charging method for electric cars is battery switch and trickle charge technology, which are the cornerstones of our approach, over fast charge due to the impact on the grid. Our partnership with CSG allows us to set up a battery switch station in Guangzhou as part of a pilot program that will allow us to demonstrate the technology to government, industry and consumers. The project will kick off later this year so we hope to have more to say then.

By the end of the year, Better Place will have battery switch stations under deployment in countries on four continents, including the U.S., Europe, Australia and now China. Why will this be an important accomplishment?

SG: Our business model is based on scale so our ability to showcase and implement our technology in the four corners of the world will help us to scale globally. We’ve found that seeing is believing with our model so these deployments will help to accelerate our global mission.


A Better Place battery switch station.

Many experts consider Better Place the world’s leading electric car services provider. Why?

SG: We created a “big bang” when we launched the company 3.5 years ago, and we’ve seen the industry come together around a $2 trillion global market opportunity. In the early days, it was Better Place, Renault-Nissan and Tesla as the primary EV champions. Now, everyone is backing electric transport and helping to move the needle towards oil independence. That’s a win for the planet, the economy and the consumer.

The Better Place network addresses historical limitations to adoption by providing unlimited driving range in a convenient and accessible manner. How are you doing this?

SG: There are two ways to charge the car in our model. The first is through a charge spot to be deployed in your home and at work. Because your car mostly “sleeps” 22 hours a day, you’ll plug in and charge when you get home at night and the same at work. Each time, your battery will be “topped off.” This is a more convenient experience than what you get today because Exxon or BP aren’t coming to your car each day and topping off the tank, are they? For the long distance drive, you’ll pull into one of our battery switch stations and swap out a depleted battery for a fresh one in less time than it takes to fill up with a tank of fuel. As a result, battery switch gives consumers a similar level of a range as an ICE car and a better experience via a battery switch station than having to pump your own fuel.

How are things moving forward in terms of battery switch stations?

SG: One of the biggest myths about Better Place is that we require a standardized battery, which is not true. Our only requirement is that the battery is accessible from underneath the vehicle. What you’ll see in our battery switch stations is the ability to manage multiple form factors of batteries. That’s an important element to our solution.

The company works with all parts of the transportation ecosystem, including automakers, battery suppliers, energy companies, and the public sector to create a compelling solution. Based in California and privately held, Better Place has operating companies in Israel, Denmark, and Australia. How are things going in these three countries and why are you working so closely with them?

SG: We plan to go live with our commercial service in Israel and Denmark later this year. We’re still in the process of testing our entire solution before we begin broad deployment of the network in both countries. On a parallel track, we’ll begin network deployment in Canberra, Australia, later this year with a view toward launching commercial service in the second half of 2012. We’ll expand beyond Canberra to Melbourne, Sydney, etc. We’re on track with all three markets.

On April 19, 2011, Better Place announced the initial deployment of its electric car network infrastructure in Hawaii with the installation of the first 10 charge spots across Oahu – five at the Sheraton Waikiki and five at three Hawaiian Electric sites. Why Hawaii? How did this deployment come about?

SG: Hawaii is one of the most progressive states in the US in terms of EVs and energy policy. Hawaii is nearly 100% dependent on oil and diesel for both transportation and generation. They have a “70X30” policy where they aim to produce 70% of their power from renewable sources by 2030. We’re working with Hawaiian Electric on the initial deployment of our network there and have had tremendous support from the state government and local partners since Day One.

Will Better Place get involved in other partnerships? Care to let us in on any?

SG: Given that this is a $2 trillion global market opportunity, there’s enormous opportunity for many players to profit from the transition to electric transport. GE, for example, has been great to work with and like us, they see enormous upside in the transition. More and more companies are waking up to the EV revolution.

Founded in 2007, Better Place is a privately-held company based in Palo Alto, California. The company has Better Place Centers in Israel, Denmark, and Canada so the public can familiarize themselves with all aspects of the Better Place solution. Why not do more in your home country, the U.S.? Will Hawaii be the only place in the United States offering Better Place solutions?

SG: We’ve got parallel projects under way in Hawaii and Northern California, where we’re implementing an electric taxi project similar to the one we did in Tokyo. Like Hawaii, California is a leader in EV and energy policy so we’ll begin with our first deployments in both states and expand as conditions warrant.

Better Place works with leading battery and vehicle manufacturers, like Renault, A123 Systems and AESC, to develop lithium-ion batteries for EVs that are high-performing, recyclable, environmentally-friendly and safe. What’s the latest on batteries? What is Better Place working on for the future in terms of batteries?

SG: There’s a Moore’s Law-like effect on batteries where we’re seeing the price per kWH come down and the cycle life improve, thus reducing the overall cost of an electric kilometer. Our model assumes no new breakthroughs in battery technology, but rather, leveraging this Moore’s Law-like effect relative to the ever-increasing price of oil. It’s these two levers that make the market economically attractive.

With so much attention now on global warming, creating green jobs, weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels and tensions in the Middle East, why is the world not moving forward at a faster pace when it comes to electric vehicles?

SG: To the contrary, nearly every OEM and every government support the transition to electric cars. The industry is moving from hype to reality this year with the arrival of the first cars with more to come this year and next. It’s an exciting time for all of us. 

 

Image courtesy of Better Place. 

Issue: JAN/FEB 2012