The head of electric car promoter Better Place Inc.'s Australian operations, Evan Thornley, said Sunday that it expects to start rolling out infrastructure to support electric cars in Australia late next year. Thornley also predicted that 10-20% of Australia's car fleet will be powered by electricity by 2020.

Australia is already a net importer of liquid fuels and lawmakers have acknowledged widespread projections that future demand will far outstrip supply, boosting the case for electric cars.

California-based Better Place raised US$350 million in equity in January that valued the company at US$1.5 billion. It intends to start building its first charge network late next year in Israel, followed by Denmark, then Australia.

The plan is to install recharging points in people's garages and other popular parking spots like airports. A network of battery swapping stations would cater for longer journeys.

But there's uncertainty about who will build the electric cars that Better Place needs.

An alliance between Renault SA (RNO.FR) and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY, 7201.TO) in September agreed to supply Better Place with at least 100,000 electric cars in Israel and Denmark, but Nissan also wants to launch an electric vehicle compatible with its own charging system.

Thornley said 51 different models of electric car are scheduled to be in production by 2012 and expressed confidence that some of those will be available in Australia. "Most of the things you can buy anywhere in the world you can buy in Australia," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

As to their cost, Thornley said electric cars will be as cheap, or cheaper to buy and operate than traditional gasoline-fueled vehicles. The batteries are expensive, but Better Place intends to bill customers in monthly instalments for the distances they drive, similar to a mobile phone payment plan.

The first charge networks will be rolled out in the Australian Capital Territory, with a national rollout to follow in 2012, Thornley said.

Late in 2008, Better Place Australia said Macquarie Group Ltd. (MQG.AU) will attempt raise A$1 billion to help it build the network, and that AGL Energy Ltd. (AGK.AU) had agreed to power it with renewable energy.

In November it secured A$25 million of funding from Lend Lease Group (LLC.AU) and AGL, with Macquarie advising on the raising.

Some in Australia argue that electric cars should be powered by renewable energy sources such as wind power to augment any environmental benefits.

Australian Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has ruled out the government introducing legislation that would force electric cars to be powered by renewables, citing reliability issues.

-By Ross Kelly, Dow Jones Newswires; 61-2-8272-4692;

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