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What prices are you looking at for the car and the battery?
Agassi: It depends on the location, the length of lease. We're looking at cars that would cost you less to acquire than their fuel counterparts and looking at charging you less per month than what you would pay for with fuel. Obviously it depends on the location. If you're in the U.K. where it's $8 a gallon, then you need a shorter contract and if you're in San Francisco, unless (Mayor) Gavin Newsom puts a different price on gasoline, you need a longer contract to secure that car. But at the end of the day, again, we're looking at trying to reduce the cost, making it a saner opportunity and cheaper opportunity for the consumers.
Are you going to have established automakers or some of the electric start-ups cooperate on these filling stations?
Agassi: We are talking with both. I think variety is important for the consumer and we think that the opportunity for the carmakers to get into the market early on is fantastic. You see what happened when Toyota decided to go with the Prius. The first-move advantage sustains itself for a very long time. We believe the first movers on electric cars are going to enjoy a very, very nice profitable market with a product that is better for their consumers. It doesn't kill people.
Whose battery are you going to use?
Agassi: We've talked to a lot of component makers. Batteries are obviously a critical component. We're not sharing until we've heard and confirmed prices and confirmed everything with those suppliers, but I've got to tell you the batteries are already in the market. We can work with what's there today. This is not a science project. We're not looking to invent something new. We're looking to integrate what is already there in the market.
How do you prevent some of the large manufacturers from taking over your ideal. As you said, it's not a science project. A lot of it involves capital infrastructure and logistical issues, and they've got money to burn.
Agassi: This is a $6 trillion to $10 trillion opportunity. If we share it everybody is happier because we, all of us, will make good profit. My investors will make good money and we have somebody to hand it to because our kids will have a planet.
Right, but they could also say, "Thanks. Great suggestion. But we're going to do these ourselves." How do you keep them out? Agassi: I think, again, you're looking at 200 countries around the world that will need to do something like this. There is no $10 trillion market that is controlled by one company and if you get standardization, you get people to compete, who are going to share in this market. I think it will be fantastic for everybody. We're not looking to exclude people. We're looking to include as many people as possible and if we can set standards, that will only accelerate the transition.
Do you have a prototype yet?
Agassi: We're working on a number of fronts with a number of carmakers. And we're hoping to launch this in early 2008 with tens of cars in our first test market and then grow this to a few hundreds and thousands in 2009. Finalize the test and then when we get to, all tests are good and the system is checking and no quirks are left in the system, we'll open the floodgate and supply the demand.
If you think of the cell phone analogy, we are AT&T; we're not Nokia. If Tesla is the new iPhone, they also need AT&T to make sure that the drivers can continue to drive.
Back in '97 and '98 there were a couple of people who did try the electric filling stations in California. There have also been other attempts to get people to cut down on gas. Is there anything for you to learn from these experiences?
Agassi: I think the problem is we have to remember there is a contract between the consumer and his car. The contract is pretty straightforward. It's my car, I don't want to share it. So, all the guys who tried these car share models--there are some trying it right now--they are a niche. But you don't find the mainstream consumer. We like to have five seats even if we're driving on our own.
If I give a souped-up golf cart, it's not going to work. We'd like to have the speed and acceleration. We'd like to drive in something that we're proud of driving. If you find yourself in a Hummer in the middle of a left-wing neighborhood, that Hummer is not going to survive for a long time. You're not going to be popular in the neighborhood. At the end of the day, we're willing to only stop to refill energy about 50 times a year for about five minutes because that's the contract we've got today.
Now, if you're willing to improve on that contract--so if you can figure out a way by which I stopped 20 times during the year and it's the same 5 minutes, or if it's 50 times, but I stop for one minute--that's also OK. But you can't ask me to stop every day for an hour or two and wait. That doesn't work.
By the way I've talked to a couple of companies that want to build rapid charging systems, but there is a lot of controversy. A lot of people are afraid about safety and challenges in charging.
Agassi: We're looking at what we believe is a more pragmatic solution and we believe that instead of trying to charge everything in three minutes, it's easier to exchange a battery in three minutes.
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