Fleeced by autos? Electric cars could be the way out

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New Delhi/ Tel Aviv, Aug.12 (ANI): By all accounts, the 'meter jam' drive in three cities in India has been a success. Commuters in Mumbai and Bangalore had begun the protest against malpractices adopted by taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers by boycotting them, and later in the day, many in national capital Delhi also joined the protest.

There were traffic jams at many places in Bangalore and Mumbai where the boycott was termed successful. People car-pooled or had to rely on public transport to get to work.

The protest which began with people sending e-mails and updates on Face-book and Twitter took on a momentum of its own, with many activists opting to wear black outfits or black arm bands in protest against what they said was fleecing by taxi and auto drivers.

A solution to the mess we have on our roads due to diesel and petrol run cabs and autos, could be the electric car that Israel will soon bring out into the market.

Just north of Tel Aviv, I visited Better Place, a start up by Shai Agassi, which will make electric cars available in the market by the year-end.

Reuters has valued Better Place to be a billion dollar plus company.

"By the second half of 2011, we will open for consumers a full commercial launch, after which, 1,000 cars a month will come into the market," twangs Agassi in a west coast accent from a slick presentation video in a swanky conference hall, the seats of which are actually car seats from old petrol driven vehicles.

I test-drove the electric car on a 1.5-km-long track at 80 miles an hour, and, it was soundless. It drives like any petrol car, but doesn't use gas. It is smooth and silent. Fast and frankly, flawless. It doesn't heat up, naturally, because there is no gas tank. So, there is no fuel pipe and you know, all that complicated machinery under the hood.

As you have probably figured out by now, I drive, but know nothing about the inside of a car. The outside, well here is where it is disappointing. It looks like any other car. The models they are using at Better Place are still older Renault models. The prototype of the final car is only on display at this stage. Renault is currently working on nine models of electric vehicles, which probably include sports models and mini vans.

So, how will the system work? The computer in the car will tell you when your battery is about to run out and where you should get it charged. In a time that takes less than pumping gas, you can get your battery replaced; the charge goes automatically to your credit card. The charge is according to usage, similar to cell phone charges.

Also, when you park your cars, you can hook it on to cables that will charge your car while you are shopping or at work or just sleeping at home.

Ninety-two Israeli companies have agreed to convert a portion of their fleets to electric vehicles once they become commercially available. It is a revolutionary project, which has been lapped up by Denmark, Australia and Japan.

Once domestic demand is met in Israel, battery cars will be seen in other countries, including the United States. California and Hawaii are keen to pick them up.

But it is Israel we are talking about. So, there are geo-political implications to a non-oil dependency project. This battery operated car project will reduce Israel's dependence on oil imports. Israel has no oil of its own and imports 90 percent of its needs from Kazakhstan and Russia, which come via supply lines under the Caspian Sea.

If these battery cars are a success in Israel, it will not be long before dependency on oil from Arab nations comes down. Israel is subtly but surely continuing its shadow boxing with its Arab neighbours. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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