Australia Goes Electric

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It will be interesting to see the extent to which Better Place’s Australian venture to create an electric car re-charging infrastructure maintains momentum in the face of a falling oil price, a tight credit market and slump in consumer demand for any costly new purchases. The firm already has funding for projects in Israel and Denmark before the A$1b (US$676m) project was announced with the backing of the State of Victoria local government. The plan is to roll out 350,000-500,000 charging points and 125 swap stations where motorists can swap used batteries without waiting to recharge according to the Financial Times.

If Better Place manages to get the backing of the federal government and actually carries through on the plan, the Australian prime minister has already announced a A$10.4b financial stimulus package to bolster consumer demand as a way of countering falling export markets, particularly in China. Depending on the technologies used, lithium and possibly nickel demand would be supported by the battery production. But battery production is more likely to take place off shore. Domestically, copper is more likely to be the beneficiary for building out the infrastructure. Other beneficiaries would include and the domestic car makers Holden (GM), Ford and Toyota, if the electric car re-charging project goes ahead in 2009 and stimulates domestic production of electric cars.

Somehow electric cars doesn’t quite fit with our traditional crocodile wrestling image of the all Australian male. It will be interesting to see how much enthusiasm the public shows for essentially urban electric cars in a market where long distances are the norm. As Better Place says, they see themselves like the early mobile phone companies building the infrastructure to enable the new technology to gain mass market acceptance. The question – Is Australia the best place to start remains.

–Stuart Burns

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