Electric cars are believed by many to be the wave of the future, but critics harp on the long recharging periods and short range as insurmountable obstacles. And the critics are right, at least based on current technology and the availability of recharging stations. But that may change if one man has his way.

How would you like to buy a car for the price of its fuel? That’s exactly what Silicon Valley entrepreneur Shai Agassi is looking to do. He wants to turn the electric car market into a model of the cellular phone market by offering discounted or free cars in exchange for extended contracts with his start-up company, Project Better Place, reports Wired’s Autopia (http://blog.wired.com/cars/2007/10/selling-electri.html). The company has already raised $200 million toward building its necessary infrastructure of charging stations and automated battery exchange depots.

The idea is that Agassi will subsidize the vehicle cost in proportion to the length of the subscription - buy a four year contract, they pay for part of your car or fuel; buy a six year contract and get the car for free. The charging stations covered under contract would be located throughout the United States and Europe. Built in parking lots, the charging stations would be places drivers could leave their cars to charge. The automated battery swap stations would be instantaneous - the machines would swap your used batteries for fresh ones. The used batteries would then be recharged and put back into circulation.

Why electricity? Agassi argues it’s much more plentiful and easily produced than biofuels or hydrogen. After all, the United States and Europe are already criscrossed with electricity distribution networks. Electricity can be produced from many sources, not just those that require land and water to produce. Agassi believes that once the charging stations are in place and someone is building the cars (like the Tesla, pictured - but in greater volume), everything will fall into place.

Project Better Place will launch several pilot programs next year, although where is still a mystery. Areas with dense urban populations that drive short distances are the likely targets for the test runs - Israel and Denmark are among the top candidates.