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January 15, 2009

Pilot project for electric cars in Toronto

CANADA/CARS - Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says he's committed to making the province a model for the introduction of electric cars in Canada.

Palo Alto, California high-tech startup 'Better Place' already has convinced Israel, Denmark and Australia to try their battery recharge and swap system, and build a network of stations where customers can swap in their current batteries for recharged ones.

The electric vehicles involved are known in the car industry as "Car 2.0."

Better Place's vision is to set up regional Electric Recharge Grid Operators that would sell energy to electric-car drivers as part of a monthly subscription — like a cellphone service plan that sells electricity instead of minutes.

No investments have been made so far as the Ontario government checks to see if the Canadian public supports the idea.

Better Place said it will set up its Canadian head office in Ontario and, as part of the partnership, will establish an electric vehicle demonstration and education centre in Toronto. Over the new few months it will develop a charging-network plan, which will include an estimated timeline for building a network and the likely cost.

At the same time, the government will do its own comprehensive study, to be released in May, that will look at ways to accelerate the manufacture and deployment of electric vehicles in Ontario as well as a viability study.

Better Place says the Greater Toronto Area is an appealing market because of its population density of roughly five million people. Documents presented by the company last summer showed that it would likely require an investment of more than $150 million to set up a local grid operator and the infrastructure to support 100,000 electric-car subscribers within 80 to 160 kilometres of downtown Toronto.

French automaker Renault S.A., in alliance with Nissan, has already agreed to manufacture electric cars for Better Place for projects in Israel and Denmark.

Agassi said any electric car could "roam" onto Better Place's charging network but more cooperation with manufacturers would be required to make sure car manufacturers made electric cars with "swappable" batteries.

Naysayers of the electric car note that hydrogen cars will replace electrics 10 years from now anyway, but may end up using parts of the same distribution network.

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