The “Failure” of Shai Agassi Bold and Audacious Plan for the Mass Adoption of Electric Cars

Shai Agassi is an Israeli entrepreneur and the former CEO of A Better Place worth $1 billion in funding. Agassi had undertaken the most audacious and ambitious plan in the history of mankind to pioneer the mass adoption of electric cars. A revolutionary idea. Mr. Agassi failed to mention that his plan replaces an oil addiction with another addiction. Electricity generation is not clean. In the U.S. 50% of the electricity is generated with coal and in China 80%. Neither of these percentages are likely to change much in the next 50 years, according to an MIT 2008 study on coal-fired power plants in China. Along with the U.S. boom in oil production, American dependence on Oil is not going to go away when there is cheap and plentiful Oil.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Shai Agassi claims for a zero carbon electric vehicle is intellectually dishonest. It doesn’t begin to address the cradle-to-grave damage that lithium-ion batteries does to the environment. Mr. Agassi touched on an incentive program for his mass adoption of electric cars. His 2015 target of 10 million electric vehicles is based on resounding success in countries which heavily invested in zero-emissions electricity generation like Hawaii. He advertised Europe’s hypothetically speedy adoption of his program in light of their heavy gasoline taxation. It is important to note that Europe’s (especially northern Europe’s) rather active commitment to zero-emissions grid generation.The cradle-to-grave battery problem is something he failed to address. In his TED talk, Mr. Agassi glides over a 5,000 charge-cycle number, mentioning it only in context of declining battery expense. It would be interesting to see if he had a battery recycling program or if he simply forgot about batteries’ environmental impact. For Mr. Agassi adoption model to truly mean something, he would need to base his plans on a culture shift from oil to zero emissions vehicles for execution, rather than an idealized dream of a northern European zero-emissions grid model. It would be interesting to see the mass adoption of electric car vehicles across China which is heavily dependent on coal and crude oil. China happens to be the #1 producer of manufactured lithium-ion batteries and also the key manufacturer of wind turbines along with having the world most worst environmental pollution.

Hybrid Car Models

Nissan Motor announced plans to market used lithium-ion batteries from its launched Leaf electric car, a scheme it says could bring down the high cost of owning a zero-emission vehicle. A press release in 2010 by Masemola Thami says, “AN ELECTRIC CAR IS NOT A ZERO EMISSION VEHICLE NOR IS IT AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY VEHICLE.” The electricity used to power the car is produced by burning of coal or natural gas or from nuclear fission. All of these are pollutants and environmental destroyers. It is simply false to see electric cars as any kind of remedy to environmental issues, except as a stepping stone to adopt a more environmental friendly initiative, to wean the global population off their oil dependency. Electric vehicles do not eliminate the emissions effect and the popularity of  Hydrogen powered hybrid vehicles has the potential to reverse the worst of emissions effect. It is not possible to conceive of a zero emissions automobile with the current technology.

Millions of dollars are funded in the green tech sector by institutions,  governments, and corporations. The Electric Vehicle’s requires established clean energy grid for charging. Even in this new paradigm, the vehicle would not be zero emissions. It might be reduced emissions due to efficiency improvements, but it would not be zero. Since the costs involved in upgrading the grid  are so magnanimous, only a fraction of the electricity in the next 50 years will be produced by zero-emissions technologies. These “zero-emissions” technologies have considerable negative environmental impacts in the manufacturing processes. There  is no such thing as a zero-emissions technology. A smarter energy grid is a necessity along with the  infrastructure of EV’s charging stations. The EV’s charging stations were built but consumers were purchasing fewer electric cars by opting out for the hybrid models. A change in culture that is dependent on oil must happen in both the United States and China –the largest car buying markets.

Timing and Execution 

The rapid advances in technology is spatial from the development to implementation to execution. Innovation happens with the consumer demand from the next generation. For example, the Super-Brain computer developed for defense technology in the 1930’s. Years later, the computer became the mainstream with personal PC’s in the 1960’s for the office work space and personal use. Decades later, the touch-screen developed into mobile technologies. “When you translate a dream into reality,” Mr. Agassi said, “it is never a full implementation.” Technological advancement is made from ongoing scientific research and the resulting innovation never fails to occur. The world is on track for a “Clean Energy Future in the Next 50 Years.”

A 50-year vision, if for no other reason current realities makes a vision for energy independence seemingly naive, we must remind ourselves that in the 1950’s we saw the development of spaceflight, the alkaline battery, FORTRAN, DNA theory, neuroscience. As far as tech industries and economic giants, it is a matter of maximizing strategy to change according to the changing times. Call it re-positioning. The pace of technological innovation is certainly astounding. A shift in culture should focus on consuming less energy and the habit of using renewable energy. China and America consumes more per capita than any other nations on Earth. Both countries could explore ways of achieving GDP targets with half or a quarter of the energy it consumes.

“Sometimes it is harder to imagine a dream into reality.”

One thought on “The “Failure” of Shai Agassi Bold and Audacious Plan for the Mass Adoption of Electric Cars

  1. “Cradle to grave” does not lend itself well to capitalism’s entrepeneuers and developers.


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