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Tech Giants Andy Grove and John Gage Promote PHEVs
Jun 10, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Silicon Valley has made history in the early development of radio, aviation, aerospace, computers and the Internet (each time, it must be pointed out, not simply by bootstrapping but with the boost from enormous government support and purchase orders). Now there's talk again of Silicon Valley's role in Cleantech, including power electronics, batteries and solar power -- both technologies and investments.

Last December, Andy Grove, Intel's former chairman &CEO, Time's 1997 Man of the Year, author of "Only the Paranoid Survive," who now teaches strategic dynamics at Stanford GSB (see­wiki/­Andrew_Grove for more background) wrote an important article in Portfolio (the Conde Nast business magazine), "Think Disruptive." He suggested that GE could find a new market in electric cars. He got little response -- though GE has invested in A123Systems.

In recent weeks, Grove has been reaching out to PHEV advocates. (See a photo of him with my car at­photos-people.html .) Last Friday, he stunned the annual CEO Summit of venture capital leader Kleiner Perkins with a challenge: to recognize the enormous business opportunity in the electrification of transportation. In an hour-long dialogue that included an extended exchange with KPCB partner Al Gore and moderator John Doerr, Grove said we have no time to waste, and that it's critical to find ways to partially electrify as many as possible of the world's 900+ million internal combustion vehicles -- especially the larger, most gas-guzzling PSUVs (pickups, SUVs and vans). He's focusing on "dual-fuel" vehicles, his preferred name for PHEVs. See our embryonic page on that subject at­ice-conversions.html -- no links yet. And if you're interested in this subject, register for July 22-25 in San Jose, where we're moderating the session on conversions, and you may even see some ICE conversions.

The meeting was closed to the press (though at some point we may see a full report), so we've respected the media blackout. But now the story has started coming out. Today, another Silicon Valley legend, John Gage, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, creator of NetDay and early investor in Hypercar, Inc. (see ) came to the Intel Museum and filmed two three-minute interviews with Fox Business News as part of its current "Three Days in the Valley" series. Yesterday, Gage announced he was a leaving his job as Sun's Chief Researcher and Vice President of the Science Office and joining Kleiner Perkins (where his former colleague Bill Joy is a partner) to work on cleantech. Today Gage talks about Grove's presentations.

We expect to hear much more from Grove. Meanwhile, watch the videos at­video/­index.html (page loads slowly; permalink will be different), or if you prefer, here are informal transcripts:


Liz Claman: Back in 1982 my next guest, most of you probably didn't even have a computer, he was making the breakthrough innovations that many of you now see today -- you can't even see them, but John Gage certainly could back in the 80s -- nice to have you here.

John Gage: Such a pleasure.

LC: John is the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, you are also the chief researcher and the VP over there, but now you're moving to one of the top venture capitalist firms and that would be Kleiner Perkins. What a new venture for you.

JG: It's true. Well, it's time. It's time to start investing time and effort and money in the new technologies because we have a crisis. Andy Grove, the legendary chairman of Intel said on Friday, we face a global environmental threat. And he pointed to the 250 million cars on the US roads today, not going very fast today, and costing a lot of money today. He said we must change every one of them to electric. Because we face a global environmental threat.

LC: And you think by going over to Kleiner Perkins that that's what you're going to focus upon, is putting that venture capital money into greentech -- which is the new word by everybody, the greentech and certainly the solar world?

JG: Exactly. Efficency. Batteries. Wind and solar are intermittent. If you could invest in batteries, you might make wind and solar predominant. So how do we do what Andy Grove wants to do, get this country away from its dependence on petroleum?

LC: John, I have to ask you, what's a scientist doing, going over to a venture capitalist? I mean, a lot of people would look at that and say, "wow, he's changing course midstream, big time, and the water certainly is a different temperature."

JG: On the one hand there's science, and on the other hand, there's money. And when you bring the two together and focus on those brand new, innovative inventions that could change batteries, could change photovoltaic, could change wind, could change electrical transmission. When you can focus physics and chemistry, on a project that could be successful if money were applied, that's where the venture capital world comes to bear.

LC: Who's got it right, right now. You hear about Ford coming out with the plug-in hybrids soon. Chevy, rushing with the Chevy Volt, which is sort of a hybrid plug-in electric. Are they just sort of the bigger, slower ways of doing this? What's going on out there that you have seen, that we don't yet, that will probably get there first?

JG: Those investments, taking what we have today in vehicles -- we know how to make a wagon, we know how to put a motor in a wagon. The problem for all of the American car makers for years with no competition, they could make them bigger and heavier, bigger and heavier, cheap oil meant they could just make the large vehicles, and we all pay. And our children will pay. Today, moving to something that is light, new materials, that's where huge advances are coming. Take the weight out, but make that vehicle stronger than any Formula 1 racer. Take the weight out.

LC: You sound like Speed Race. I mean this is getting exciting for me, but I'm just wondering where's the money in all this -- is this years before we see this technology?

JG: I think every person on this planet, that at this moment is trying to decide whether to buy the iPhone or not -- we have 3 billion of those small devices -- but those devices are not integrated into the vehicles yet. The moment that you bring the vehicles onto the network, they can say where they are, and we can begin to reuse the hundreds of billions of dollars invested in streets and highways to do efficient movement of goods and people. So bringing together information, location and network are the powerful catalysts of a fundamental transformation.

LC: So you think that people, if you were to make it so easy for people to drive electric cars and have -- oh, your iPhone hooks up to this, and your BlackBerry might automatically hook up when you walk in and it syncs and you sit down and you start the car -- then that will sort of hasten the transition to electric vehicles?

JG: Why do we move things? Because everything is in the wrong place. I went to find something to buy -- where is it? Where is the closest gas station? Where's the closest place I could buy my new iPhone? Where is it -- I want to buy one of these things. So, when you have location data in your vehicle, you can reroute around traffic jams, you can dissipate all over the existing street network, everything moving people to wherever they want to be -- it's a way of forming community, it's a way of linking us together, it's a way of satisfying human need.

HYBRID HOW-TO (John Gage transcript -- part 2)

Liz Claman: I'm hearing a two pronged approach here, that when you go to Kleiner Perkins you will be focusing upon electric vehicles that are good for the environment but also bringing together the whole wireless communication world within that.

John Gage: That's right. We have to fix the whole electrical grid problem because if you have electric vehicles, where does the power come from? We've watched the U.S. go dark because we have not managed our grid well. We have to learn from other places in the world that are better than we are.

LC: Lithium-ion batteries -- I hear a lot of this, well if we switch to electric cars, there's going to be a lithium shortage.

JG: It's true.

LC: How do you avoid that?

JG: By inventing polymer kinds of substrates to enhance the power of lithium to store energy. Or perhaps move to new materials that allow you to make a capacitor out of very new materials that store -- a capacitor is just two plates of conductivity with something as an insulator in between, roll it up and you've got something that stores energy. So we have as a major thrust -- convince every kid in the world to become interested in engineering to solve this global crisis, and focus on electricity, and on storage of power and energy, and on transmission systems to carry that to where we need to use it.

LC: Coming up, we have the CEO of Solar City, and they are trying very hard to innovate and get it cheaper to put solar panels in people's houses. Are you looking at that, too?

JG: Critically important. And Andy Grove, one of the legendary chairmen of Silicon Valley high-tech said on Friday, is government intervention necessary, and his answer, this capitalist head of one of the world's most successful techno companies, is "absolutely yes." We must have incentives for solar, we must have incentives to move to electric vehicles, we must have incentives and a coherent, solid plan backed by all of us. And as Andy Grove said, "This is a global threat. There is no time." He kept saying that: "There is no time".

LC: What if I tell you that there are also people out there -- this wouldn't be a surprise to you -- who say this solar thing is a bubble, as soon as gasoline prices go down they'll be cheap again. Of course, I would argue we saw cheap gas in 1999, and then now it's expensive again, and that this is always going to be a huge problem for us.

JG: You're absolutely right, but I think the critical word, and I'll again steal from Andy Grove, is resilience. Not so much that we need to be independent of petroleum-producing states, we need to be resilient when these shocks hit. So the price may come down of gas, but it's no excuse not to invest in efficiency and in new engineering and scientific knowledge.

LC: He is one of the visionaries of all time here in Silicon Valley, John Gage, co-founder of Sun Micro, and now good luck at Kleiner Perkins.

JG: Thank you.

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