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Taking to the Road to Promote Electric Cars

September 28, 2011 By:
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When Michael Granoff enters a room, you can just feel the electricity. You get the same sense when he turns on his car.

The founder of Maniv Investments LLC, and chief of oil independence policies for Better Place -- a key division of Maniv -- Granoff is a founding fueler of the electric car industry.

He is in that better place right now, he avers, leading the world through his company to an electricity-fueled revolution that would decimate global gasoline dependency.

Granoff has teamed with Israeli-American Shai Agassi -- a software magnate who has pumped millions into Better Place -- to position Israel as a front-runner in the road-warrior revolution.

After all, what better place than Israel, he says, to metaphorically dump sand in the engines that run on fossil fuel?

It's a dinosaur dynamic he will discuss on Oct. 4 at a gathering of the Women's Division of the Philadelphia Campaign for State of Israel Bonds, to be held, not coincidentally, at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.

It's significant, he claims, because autos today are the museum pieces of the near future.

But why Israel as role model to roll out the electric car? "It is a small country for driving distances," which is important because battery-operated cars have a maximum mileage range of about 125 miles before needing to recharge at strategically located posts, which also serve as battery "swap" stations.

And Israel would love to pull the plug on oil dependency. You don't need a GPS to understand that nation's geographical position as a gasoline-poor power surrounded by fuel-enriched enemies.

Granoff and Agassi -- he is the company's global manager/infrastructure -- have structured a plan that would have Israel fuel-free within a couple of years for the Renaults and Nissans in the country.

And they have set their sights on the United States to share that status by the end of the decade, says Granoff. "There is no single thing that is more important to the U.S. economy and its political future" than being fuel-free, he asserts.

If the United States doesn't take action, it will become a mere passenger in the current electric revolution, claims Granoff, noting that China has just signed a major deal this month with General Motors to push its electric profile forward.

"They could be all-electric within a decade," says Granoff. One report in The Wall Street Journal predicts China will have 170 million e-cars by 2016 .

"Look, the United States doesn't understand. Just like the music industry and the newspaper industry have had to change with the times," the time is right -- now.

At least 10 car manufacturers are in the electric car business, with global consulting firm Accenture predicting "1.5 million electric vehicles in the United States by 2015" while more than "10 million electric vehicles are possible by 2020, especially if oil prices rise as battery prices fall."

Is PECO ready for this? "Single electric utilities have scenarios for charging over one million electric vehicles in their own service area by 2020," according to the Accenture website.

"With renewable energy investment required of utilities in 30 states, these utilities are most interested in night time charging of electric vehicles with wind, geothermal and hydropower. Utilities are also implementing smart grids and incentives for off-peak charging."

And there is nothing the oil lobby can do about it, emphasizes Granoff -- "unless they want to ensure that the U.S. finishes last in the world in the electric revolution."

Of course, there are challenges; infrastructure has to be reinvented, as it has been in Israel, where battery stations are being plugged into the landscape.

President Barack Obama is a proponent, calling in his last State of the Union address for the United States to have "a million vehicles on the road by 2050."

But it does have its naysayers. Louis Woodhill, a contributor for Forbes magazine and automotive expert, recently wrote in a column that "the short and highly variable range" of such a car, "coupled with its very long recharging time, creates the phenomenon of 'range anxiety.' "

"The car takes over your life," he wrote. "You are forced to plan every trip carefully, and to forgo impromptu errands in order to conserve precious electrons. And, when you are driving, you are constantly studying the readouts worrying about whether you are going to make it through the day."

Granoff dismisses such concerns, saying they are miniscule compared to the benefits. But the odometer is running; Denmark just signed on as an electric hub also.

And there are more coming aboard, says Granoff, who has "raised $700 million in private capital" to accomplish his company's goal.

"We are building a showroom for electric cars in Israel," where orders for 100,000 vehicles, he claims, are being tabulated.

And Granoff asserts that he and Agassi are in the business for the long run.

Which seems especially natural for Granoff, with long-term commitments to Jewish agencies and organizations such as Hillel and AIPAC.

As for hobbies, the musical theater enthusiast has his own way of spending life's intermission, relying on innate energy.

He is, when and if he has any leftover time helping to run Better Place, a marathoner with more than 25,000 miles under his feet.

Or, is that, under his hood?

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