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Plugged in: The Israel-Bergen tech connection

Local man funds electric cars in Israel

Clean-tech venture capitalist Michael Granoff of Tenafly was the first investor in Project Better Place, Israel’s initiative to create an infrastructure for the mass deployment of electric vehicles and recharging stations.

He also has the first residential charging spot outside Israel, installed in his garage in February.

“I can now charge my own electric car,” he told The Jewish Standard after arriving in Israel this week for his monthly trip to Better Place headquarters in Rosh HaAyin, where he heads the company’s oil-independence policies department.

“I have a BMW Mini-e, a test-market car – and I got a Chevrolet Volt for my mom in Saddle River,” said Granoff. “When I charge the cars in New Jersey, it shows up on our network operations center in Rosh HaAyin.”

Soon, many Israelis will follow suit. The Better Place Demonstration Center near Tel Aviv attracted 75,000 people between February 2010 and April 2011, when it shut for renovations ahead of a grand reopening as a visitor and sales center this summer.

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Battery switch station in Israel

“Shortly afterward, we will start converting soft sales to hard sales for delivery by the end of the year,” said Granoff. “We have a lot more demand than supply for cars and charge spots in our first year.”

In May, Better Place Israel unveiled membership packages and pricing for the Renault Fluence Z.E., which Granoff describes as “a phenomenal, solid five-passenger luxury sedan.” It has signed a conversion agreement with 92 corporate fleet owners and inked a deal with Dor Alon, one of Israel’s leading gas station operators, for the deployment of battery switch stations.

Better Place also is launching in Denmark and has signed a $60 million contract to supply renewable energy to its electric car-charging network in Canberra, the largest renewable energy deal of its kind in Australia. This week, Renault announced it will supply right-hand-drive Fluence Z.E. cars there in 2012. Better Place ran a successful pilot electric taxi project last year in Japan, and has begun a similar program in Hawaii. Next year, a small fleet of electric taxis powered by Better Place will take fares between San Francisco and San Jose.

A second electric Renault model, the Zoe, is due out in Israel next year.

“We’re hopeful that when the automotive world sees what we have done and that it makes sense, and that consumers love it, many more companies will produce battery-switchable cars,” said Granoff, whose Maniv Israel Cleantech Ventures fund was established in 2005.

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