04/29/2011 02:38

Officials hope Guangzhou partnership will lead to future development of a regional electric-car network.

Israeli-owned electric car infrastructure company Better Place signed an agreement in Tel Aviv on Wednesday with officials from China Southern Power Grid Co. to open a battery switch station and joint education center in Guangzhou, China, by the end of the year, Better Place announced.

In phases, the two companies will develop the education center, with goals to educate the Chinese public about the benefits of going electric – through interactive exhibits, meeting facilities, electric cars that visitors can test drive and an automated battery switch station, the statement said.

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Better Place already has similar centers functioning in Tel Aviv, Copenhagen and Toronto, hosting almost 100,000 guests annually, the company reported.

“China Southern Grid is an important partner in a huge market that is moving quickly toward the mass-market development of electric cars and is embracing battery switch as the primary means of range extension,” said Better Place CEO and founder Shai Agassi in the statement.

“Our collaboration with China Southern and the support of the Guangzhou government opens the door to new opportunities for switchablebattery electric cars made by Chinese manufacturers for the domestic and export markets.

“We are in advanced discussions with a number of Chinese automakers to partner around our open network solution and we will share our selection of preferred partners with the market once a final decision is made,” Agassi added.

Also present at Wednesday’s ceremony was Guangzhou’s Executive Vice Mayor Wu Yimin, who signed an agreement with Agassi that calls for the municipality to assist Better Place and China Southern Power Grid (CSG) in their efforts to bring electric vehicles to the city, by encouraging local manufacturers to produce electric cars with switchable batteries and by promoting electric car fleets and taxis in both the private and public sectors, according to Better Place.

“Electric cars present a great opportunity for China and are critical to achieve a low carbon economy. We will support this rapidly growing industry by encouraging production of electric cars in the region and promoting adoption in fleets,” Wu said in the statement.

“The cooperation between China Southern Grid and Better Place is a strategic step, and both companies will have our full support. We are pleased to host the joint education center, the first of its kind in China, later this year.”

For Better Place, the partnership with a Chinese company is important because the Israeli group sees China as a forerunner for future dominance in the automotive industry.

“China by definition is a disruptor, particularly in industries where it wants to create a pillar for its economy,” Dan Cohen, vice president of strategic initiatives at Better Place, told The Jerusalem Post. “China intends – and anybody who sees what happens there would agree – to be a significant player in the automotive market.

“As car companies are looking at their options, China doesn’t have the baggage that other countries in the world have,” he added.

The enthusiasm for the electric automotive industry from within the Chinese government is also key to China’s attractiveness as a place for future growth, Cohen explained.

“We get a huge push by the government for national security reasons, both due to oil dependency and emissions problems in the cities,” he said. “The government is very aggressive.”

While Better Place right now has a strong partnership with Renault for imports of over 100,000 of its Fluence Z.E. cars to Israel and Denmark over the next four to five years, this deal is by no means exclusive, and the company looks forward to expanding its collaborations to multiple car companies and models, according to Cohen.

“By having strategic collaboration in China you enhance the opportunity for local car companies to build their cars to fit our network,” he said.

CSG is the world’s eighth largest utility firm on the Fortune Global 500, which ranks the company as the 156th largest corporation in the world, according to the statement from Better Place.

CSG is part of the Electric Vehicle Industry Alliance led by China’s state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which was established to build internationally competitive electric car brands and help China achieve its goal of becoming the world’s largest manufacturer of the cars, the statement said.

CSG and Better Place hope to develop their relationship further and in doing so are looking into a potential future commercial operation that would be based on the battery-switch, network model, which could take advantage of the Guangzhou-based company’s extensive grid that covers five provinces, one million square kilometers and 230 million people, Better Place reported.

“What both companies have preached, if you will, is that the real solution today is a combination of a few elements – the slow charging network, and then for providing freedom of drive and convenience, the only real viable solution is the battery switch,” Cohen told the Post.

CSG seems to be on exactly the same page.

“We believe that networked infrastructure is critical to enable broad adoption and focusing on charging alone would be too costly and time-consuming,” CSG Chairman Zhao Jianguo said in the statement.

“The battery-switch model may become mainstream in China and our joint visitor center and battery switch demonstration project with Better Place will help promote electric car adoption in China by allowing potential customers to experience this innovative solution.”