Tenafly man electrifies Israel with vehicle revolution

Tenafly man electrifies Israel with vehicle revolution

TENAFLY – Marty Granoff recalls clearly what his son Michael wanted to do when he grew up. "He said he wanted to be a Zamboni driver in Madison Square Garden," said the elder Granoff.

Michael Granoff never did get to drive an ice resurfacer, but last week the borough resident made headlines for his involvement with an even more exciting vehicle: the electric car.

Granoff was in Israel for a ceremony at the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to announce Israel’s partnership with Project Better Place — a portfolio company of Granoff’s Maniv Energy Capital LLC — to create an infrastructure for the mass deployment of electric vehicles and recharging stations throughout the Jewish state.

President Shimon Peres addresses guests at a Jan. ‘1 luncheon celebrating Israel’s partnership with Project Better Place. At his right are Carlos Ghosn, chairman Renault-Nissan; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor Eli Yishai; chairman of Project Better Place and CEO of Israel Corporation Idan Ofer. At Peres’ his left are Shai Agassi, Project Better Place founder, and Minister of National Infrastructures and Energy Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

Also at the ceremony were Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn — who pledged to have the cars on Israeli roads within two years — and Project Better Place founder Shai Agassi, an American-Israeli living in California.

Granoff was the first investor in Project Better Place, which was launched in October and quickly became part of Maniv’s Israel Cleantech Ventures enterprise. Maniv (the word comes from the Hebrew "l’haniv payrot," or "to bear fruit") was established in ‘005 to explore opportunities in clean technology and alternative energy.

Electric cars have been manufactured on a small scale for at least a decade, but never gained ground as personal vehicles. Their downfall, said Granoff, was a battery that could go only 60 miles on a charge and lasted only half the life of the car.

Michael J. Granoff, left, stands with President Shimon Peres at the president’s house.

"Now you have safe lithium-ion batteries that have a 100-mile range and ‘,000 to 3,000 recharging cycles, longer than the life of the car," said Granoff, who grew up in Saddle River and has graduate degrees in law and business.

"One of the great insights of this new initiative is to separate the car from the battery, so the driver can exchange the battery on the fly, and the batteries will remain in circulation."

Granoff is involved in Jewish and Israel-related organizations, including Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. A member of the inaugural class of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program of ‘004-‘006, he also is president of Kesher Community Synagogue of Tenafly and Englewood. He and his wife, Tovit, have four children; their eldest attends The Moriah School of Englewood, while their twin boys are at the Lubavitch preschool here.

Personal interests aside, there were several sound business reasons to choose Israel for the pilot that PBP hopes to replicate around the world. For one thing, it’s the size of New Jersey — small enough for a viable test run. In addition, Israeli drivers pay upward of $6 per gallon for gasoline bought from hostile regimes. And Israelis are famous for embracing new technologies and gadgets, like cellular phones.

In fact, the electric cars will be marketed with monthly usage plans based on the model used by wireless service-providers.

Agassi credited Israel’s President Shimon Peres as his inspiration. Peres, an environmental advocate, helped Agassi create a framework for his vision that is to include government tax incentives for purchasers. Renault-Nissan’s Ghosn plans several electric models, with price points similar to that of its conventional cars.

The project got its final boost from a $100 million investment by Idan Ofer, chairman of Israel Corporation Ltd., a major owner and operator of shipping companies and refineries.

Getting Ofer aboard was Granoff’s doing. "One of the most interesting aspects for me was introducing Shai and Idan to each other," said Granoff in a phone interview with The Jewish Standard. "I thought Idan might see Shai’s venture as a competitive threat and would want to be involved from the ground up. We all met in June and after hearing our plan, Idan quipped, ‘I guess we’ll have to sell all our refineries.’"

Ofer told reporters at last week’s ceremony that he felt it wise to invest in what he hopes will become "a world-class company" that could enable countries across the world to become energy-independent.

By ‘010, the partnership aims to create a half-million charge spots and a network of battery exchange stations in Israel. "It’s not as big an infrastructure project as it sounds," Granoff said. "Just look at the cable TV infrastructure that was created very quickly and had to be started from scratch. We are starting with the existing electricity grid, which is ubiquitous. We will create a smart extension system before we put the first 100,000 cars on the road."

This project will not require an upgrade of the electricity grid, he added.

"Most recharging will be done at night when there is the most capacity in the system," he said. Distributing energy to recharge batteries will allow utility companies to flatten their supply-and-demand curve and may even lead to buy-backs of unused energy.

As far as the generation of that energy, Granoff says that centralizing coal-burning plants would result in a 30 to 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. He envisions the whole venture eventually to be generated by solar power.

In the meantime, he said, "There will be no more tailpipe emissions, which, incidentally, probably kill more Israelis through disease than die in traffic accidents."

Granoff and Agassi expect to have five additional countries clamoring for trials by the end of ‘008.

"All of us who are invested in this did extensive due diligence and believe we have a rock-solid plan," he said. "I’m confident that because oil is finite, dirty, and in the hands of unfriendly regimes, the public will want to move away from oil. I will be meeting with Sen. [Frank] Lautenberg and other representatives in Washington about ways we can incentivize ourselves — and, we hope, future competitors — to enter the U.S. market sooner rather than later."

If that sounds ambitious to most of us, it doesn’t surprise Granoff’s dad.

"He was always interested in world affairs," said Marty Granoff. "And he was always interested in making a difference"

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