Gov't helps Better Place with words, not deeds

Dubi Ben-Gedalyahu

The government and government companies have not yet bought even one electric car for use by their employees.

The hullaballoo around electric car venture Better Place Inc. has sent us to examine where its other partner has disappeared to - the partner which has been responsible over the years for fostering, incentivizing, persuading, encouraging, and creating favorable public relations for the electric car. Yes we're talking about the Israeli government, which announced its support for the electric car almost from the venture's first day.

In November 2007, the government passed a resolution (no. 2580) to "encourage non-gasoline transportation", on the basis of which it granted generous tax breaks for the electric car, and set national priorities to encourage the construction of the battery replacement and recharging network, to foster joint ventures with carmakers, and other measures. The name "Better Place" was never explicitly mentioned in the decision, but the decision was tailored for the company.

Since then, the government has not stopped reminding the public that the electric car has backing. For example, under "Electric Vehicles" the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources has a permanent statement on its website, which says, "The Ministry encourages the use of electricity driven transportation in Israel, including electric vehicles, to facilitate change and diversity in the national fuel offering, while reducing dependence on liquid fuel, reducing air and noise pollution, and increasing energy efficiency as a result of more efficient power generation, etc."

In 2011, the ministry published a policy statement, Charging of Electric Vehicles, which tells the public that the electric car is a viable option, and not one of the alternative technologies undergoing initial tests around the world. "Recent developments in the field are turning it into a realistic option that contributes to reducing dependence on oil, decreasing direct air pollution from transportation, as well as advancing the use of non-oil based generation of power for transportation (coal, natural gas, renewable energy, nuclear energy)."

The Prime Minister's Office also strongly supports the electric car. Two years ago, it drew up the "National plan for fuel alternatives for transportation", and even set up an administration for the plan, which has published optimistic forecasts about the future of the electric car.

In September, the administration said in a statement, "Economically, the electric car is a new technology in the market, and, as such, it has not yet achieved full economic worthwhileness, and requires government subsidies. We believe that over the current decade, the penetration of the electric car into the Israeli and global markets will pick up speed." It adds, "As use of the electric car spreads, the public's awareness of it will increase, and the deployment of the recharging infrastructures in Israel will expand, allowing even higher penetration later on."

The Ministry of Finance also has its hand in. In late April, it announced, "The finance minister has decided to grant additional tax breaks for motor vehicles with alternative engines (hybrids or electric) in order to continue and encourage the spread of these vehicles in the market."

All talk but no action

The ordinary citizen or car fleet manager reading these statements could conclude that the electric car technology has a safety net provided by the Israeli government, which will greatly reduce the substantial risks of early adoption of the new technology.

But in actuality, the safety net is mostly words. In practice, the government and government companies have not yet bought even one electric car for use by their employees. It has not happened at the government car fleet, which numbers 3,000 cars, nor for the fleet for IDF officers, which numbers tens of thousands of cars. It has not happened at the Knesset leasing center, where the electric car is not even an option.

In other words, the government prefers to wait on the sidelines and let ordinary citizens get their feet wet and risk their own money before it will allocate a single shekel from the government car fleet's multibillion shekel operating budget.

A marvelous safety net indeed.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on October 11, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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