Venture-backed Better Place launches $1bn electric car effort

Better Place, backed by Morgan Stanley and VantagePoint Venture Partners, will begin building charging ports and battery exchange stations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010.

Venture capital-backed company Better Place has launched a public private partnership with the state of California to build re-charging infrastructure like charging ports and battery exchange stations in the San Francisco Bay Area necessary for electric cars.

Better Place, headed by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, estimates the network investment in the Bay Area will total $1 billion when the system is fully deployed.

The company was launched in 2007 with $200 million from its first financing round from Morgan Stanley, venture firm VantagePoint Venture Partners and Israeli holding company Israel Corporation. A group of individual private investors managed by Pomona Capital chief executive Michael Granoff also participated, including former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, former Distillers Corporation-Seagrams president Edgar Bronfman and Musea Ventures, the family venture fund of former Novellus Systems president Sass Somekh.

To date, Better Place has launched similar infrastructure initiatives in Israel, Denmark and Australia.

In California, network planning and permitting will begin in January 2009 with infrastructure deployment beginning in 2010. Mass market availability of electric cars is targeted for 2012, according to Better Place.

A number of venture capital-backed electric car companies are poised to benefit from the infrastructure.

Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors has begun production of 100 percent electric sports car The Roadster. The company is backed by more that $140 million in venture financing from venture investors including Compass Technology Partners, Valor Equity Partners, Capricorn Management, Google, DBL Partners, VantagePoint Venture Partners and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Fisker Automotive, a Silicon Valley-based hybrid sports car company, also is making a car that is expected to begin delivery in the fourth quarter of 2009. Investors in Fisker include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, hedge fund Palo Alto Investors and sovereign wealth fund the Qatar Investment Authority.

Also entering the North American market in 2009 is electric vehicle TH!NK city. The car is produced by TH!NK North America, backed by RockPort Capital Partners and Kleiner Perkins.