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Bay Area seeks to become electric-car capital

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Better Place, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has already begun developing electric-vehicle grids in Israel, Denmark, and Australia. The company, which is headed by software whiz and former SAP executive Shai Agassi, operates under a novel business model, distributing electric cars the way telecoms distribute cellphones.

Instead of purchasing a car outright, customers subscribe to a certain number of miles per month and get the electric car at a discounted rate, or even for free. Better Place operates the recharge grid and owns the batteries.

Most current electric-car batteries can go only about 40 miles before needing to be recharged. (That's more than the average round-trip daily commute.) For trips longer than that, Better Place is planning to build 100 to 200 completely automated battery-swapping centers in the Bay Area, where drivers can pull in and have their depleted batteries exchanged for fresh ones, all without ever leaving their cars.

In previous deals, Better Place has partnered with Renault-Nissan, which provides the electric cars. The automaker was absent at last Thursday's announcement, but an electric Nissan Rouge SUV was among the electric cars on display outside San Francisco's city hall.

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