Josh Steinmann is hoping to give Britain its first mass-scale electric vehicle network
Josh Steinmann of clean-tech company Better Place
Electric cars will “become the norm” in a matter of years, says eco-entrepreneur Josh Steinmann, who is helping to accelerate a transition from petrol vehicles. Mr Steinmann, 38, is vice president of business development at Better Place, the clean-transport company set up by Israeli-born entrepreneur Shai Agassi — the former president of the products and technology group at software giant SAP. The firm is planning to market electric vehicles (EVs) internationally. Over the next few years, it will install a network of EV charging spots and battery exchange stations in several countries. Starting with Israel and Denmark in 2011, and Australia, Canada, Hawaii and San Francisco in 2012, the UK, believes Mr Steinmann, could be next. “There will inevitably be a transition to electric cars,” says Mr Steinmann, 38. “We absolutely believe that in a matter of years, between 50 and 100 per cent of new cars that enter the market will be electric. What we hope to do is provide a system that will accelerate adoption by being easily useable and very economical for customers, who will see it as a viable alternative to the conventional vehicle. “It will become a foregone conclusion that people’s next car will be electric.” Under the Better Place model, consumers will buy an electric car from one of the firm’s commercial partners — so far, Renault-Nissan are on board — and subscribe to a monthly contract of miles, like the way a mobile phone company charges for minutes. Better Place will install charging spots in parking spaces at home, work and at retail locations. For distances longer than the range of the car’s battery, drivers will pull into a battery exchange stations to pick up a charged one. “There are various types of EVs and charge points, but nothing on a commercial scale,” says US-born Mr Steinmann, who relocated to the UK from San Francisco last year to research the market. “It remains to be seen how quickly the model could be implemented in the UK, but we are optimistic.” Is there enough demand from UK consumers? “Not a day goes by when we don’t see very strong indicator pointing in the right direction. There is a fantastic opportunity and all the signs that you would look for in a market are there.” He is confident the system could be introduced in the UK as soon as 2012. The company has been in discussions with the UK government and London mayor Boris Johnson to negotiate a deal to bring the system to Britain. “Both the government and Mayor Johnson have been very vocal about the importance of moving to electric transport. We are very encouraged by those sentiments.” Launched in 2007, Better Place has already secured over $200m of funding — one of the largest start-up financings in history. Principal Investors include: Israel Corp, run by Idan Ofer; Ofer Brothers Group; VantagePoint Venture Partners and Morgan Stanley. Better Place was launched by Mr Agassi to end the world’s addiction to oil. In fact, it was never meant to be a commercial venture, admits Mr Steinmann, a founding member. “It started as Project Better Place — a framework built by Shai to create oil independence in Israel. “The idea was not to form a commercial enterprise but, as the concept evolved, market conditions shifted, oil prices continued to rise and concerns about climate change accelerated, it made sense to look at the model as a commercial opportunity.” The duo started working together on this project in 2006. They met when Mr Agassi was president of the products and technology division at software maker SAP, and Mr Steinmann was “just down the road” at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Mr Steinmann has been the director of global business for leading wireless communications company Qualcomm, where he worked with mobile operators worldwide to promote the adoption of Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, the platform on which 3G technologies are built. Mr Steinmann abandoned his career in telecoms to focus on green technology. Although he does not consider himself a “full-on, hardcore greenie”, Mr Steinmann is environmentally conscious. He does not own a car — just an Oyster card and comfortable pair of shoes, as he puts it, and says he is motivated by Better Place’s core principles. The firm is committed to enabling the transition to renewables-powered electric vehicles with zero emissions. “Clearly, how to generate electricity in a sustainable and climate-friendly way is the issue everyone is grappling with. We must migrate from our dependence on fossil fuels for energy. “There is a variety of different electricity-generating technologies that are being developed. This has to be very high on the priority list to ensure we have a sustainable energy sector going forward.” He adds: “While no sectors are immune from this financial crisis, from a trend perspective there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that, at the end of it, there will be some great opportunities in the renewable energy sector.” And there is little doubt that Mr Steinmann will be at the forefront of them.