Technology Review:

In a sign of serious trouble, electric car services company Better Place is winding down its operations in Silicon Valley and Australia.

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The company will focus on Israel and Denmark, where the company’s electric vehicle charging and battery-swapping infrastructure is already in place, Better Place says in a statement.

Israeli software executive Shai Agassi founded Better Place in 2005 to tackle one of the main problems with battery-electric vehicles—the limited driving range. From its base in Palo Alto, Calif., the company developed a business model where customers buy monthly driving plans that cover the cost of charging at home and at public stations. Customers can also drive up to automated battery-changing stations that remove depleted batteries for fresh ones in about the same amount of time it takes to fill a tank of gas.

As you can see, this problem—developing an infrastructure for a new medium for a mode of transportation—is too huge for the market, its resources, and its very nature. The sheer scale of this kind of transformation can only be supported by an institution or social form that has a completely different set of priorities. The formation and maintenance of an electric car infrastructure needs something like an industrial policy, an approach to economic development that neoliberal theorists totally reject. But, as the economist Ha-Joon Chang has pointed out, if the Japanese state had not absorbed huge losses in the long and expensive development of its automobile industry, it would not have a Toyota to talk about. It is the business of the state to fund and sustain an infrastructure for electric cars. If the state is not there all the time, then we are just dreaming.

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