Shai Agassi talks electric cars at TED

Just over a year ago, BusinessWeek ran a great piece by my colleague Steve Hamm about and his audacious plans to produce a mass market electric vehicle and thereby revolutionize the auto industry. So it was great to get an update from the former software entrepreneur turned zero emission transport guru on the main TED stage earlier today.

Much of what Agassi had to say was familiar, but it was fascinating to hear how the Better Place project is scaling to places such as Australia and Hawaii (it started life in Israel, with the support of politician Shimon Peres.) The emergence of Car 2.0, as Agassi described it, entails an entirely new business model for car ownership, whereby drivers will pay for miles as they currently pay for minutes on a phone. And Agassi, who cut an imposing and definitive figure on stage, professed to be interested in only two figures: Zero, as in zero emissions; and infinity, as in this model should be available for every driver, worldwide.

It was a good reminder that half measures won’t cut it. And Agassi compared the current situation to the situation in which England found itself when contemplating the end of slavery. Abolition was not only the right moral decision, but it led to the industrial revolution and a surge in creativity and employment. It’s an interesting point of contrast, and Agassi made it clear that as far as he’s concerned, the decision we’re making now is no less critical. His 18 minute talk earned him a standing ovation.

Image courtesy TED/James Duncan Davidson

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