Mobile phones: The future model for the car industry?

There is a fascinating story on the cover of this month’s Wired Magazine about Shai Aggasi and Better Place, Inc., and his out-of-this-world plan to turn the car industry as we know it on its head. His plan is essentially to replace the car as the primary commodity being sold by automakers, and turn them instead into energy companies, selling electricity to power a worldwide fleet of electric cars, simultaneously slashing emissions, reducing the need for oil, stimulating investment in alternative energy, and discovering a new industry worth billions or trillions of dollars:

Agassi dealt with the battery issue by simply swatting it away. Previous approaches relied on a traditional manufacturing formula: We make the cars, you buy them. Agassi reimagined the entire automotive ecosystem by proposing a new concept he called the Electric Recharge Grid Operator. It was an unorthodox mashup of the automotive and mobile phone industries. Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would blanket a country with a network of “smart” charge spots. Drivers could plug in anywhere, anytime, and would subscribe to a specific plan—unlimited miles, a maximum number of miles each month, or pay as you go—all for less than the equivalent cost for gas. They’d buy their car from the operator, who would offer steep discounts, perhaps even give the cars away. The profit would come from selling electricity—the minutes.

Whether you think that cars feature prominently in the near future as oil gets more expensive and new alternatively-fueled autos are still years away, it’s a fascinating story well worth reading. Aggasi’s fundamental business plan is so radical, it’s akin to you or I walking into a room full of scribes in the 14th century transcribing ancient encyclopedic volumes, and showing them not a printing press — but a laptop connected to the web and surfing Wikipedia.

h/t to Reid for the link.