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Electric dreams


The motor industry may be struggling, but an increasing number of cities around the world are discovering the electric car thanks to California-based Better Place, founded by software entrepreneur Shai Agassi in 2007.

In the past year, it has made deals in Japan, Australia, Denmark, Israel, California and Hawaii to wire their cities with stations where future electric car drivers can plug in to a power supply or change a battery.

In Australia a network for electric car owners is planned ­in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane by 2012. Investment bank Macquarie hopes to raise €500m to fund the project, while power firm Australian Gas Light will supply electricity from renewable sources. “[Australians have] the largest per capita carbon emissions in the world and they are one of the largest car purchasing nations, so there’s a great market,” says Better Place’s Julie Mullins.

In Israel, meanwhile, 500,000 charging points for electric cars are set to be installed by 2011

Battery life: an electric road map
01 With a lithium-ion battery lasting 170km – and a 70km drive between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – Israel is a practical choice to test the product.
02 There are currently 70,000 electric cars on the road in the US, where 96 per cent of transport is still fuelled by oil.
03 Better Place claims that switching the global fleet of cars to all-electric would reduce all greenhouse gases by 40 per cent.

Permission to land


Parchim, in Germany’s economically depressed state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, hopes for boom times now that its sleepy airport (pictured) has been taken over by Chinese logistics firm LinkGlobal. With a 3,000m runway and no curfew on night flights, the plan is to turn it into a key European cargo hub for Far East importers. Flights are already operating. A surrounding business park is planned for 2012 where imported items can be assembled and, sadly, labelled “Made in Germany”.
Post Modern

India Post, that dusty Raj-era touchstone, is getting a makeover. The 155-year-old postal network is the world’s largest, but most of the post ­offices are in rural areas and cannot even get online – costing the government an estimated annual loss of €200m.

That’s why Jyotiraditya Scindia, minister of state for communications and IT, is overhauling the network. With a new brand created by Ogilvy & Mather and advice from McKinsey, post ­offices will have broadband – enabling e-post and instant money orders. There will also be passport processing facilities and package tracking call centres. The service will be “fast to respond, quick to adapt new technology, and flexible in its business approach”, says Scindia.

Project Arrow, as it’s called, will cost 150m rupees (€2.3m) and aims to transform 500 post offices by early this year.

Pawn crackers

One UK industry making a fortune from the credit crunch

By Rachel Morarjee

Struggling to find credit, many small business in Italy are turning to the Mafia for money - the same is happening in the UK, except business are turning to pawn shops for cash. Although you can't buy shares in Costa Nostra, investors can buy stakes in the UK's growing pawn industry, which is becoming an appealing alternative to banks.

These have been good times for UK pawnbrokers. who suffer short-term loans in exchange for their costumers' valuable possessions (an average loan is £120 and lasts for a month but pawnshops have been known to extend credit of up to £15,000).

Pawn shops have evolved from their Dickensian roots and are fiddling more well-heeled customers tapping on their doors, often small business that can't find short-term credit elsewhere.

Pawnbroking was increasing in Britain before the credit crunch and some shops have seen their loan books rise between 15 and 30 per cent in the last half of 2008.

Business is so good, says Des Milligan , head of the UK's National Pawnbrokers Association, that firms are looking for outside investors (high net wealth individuals) to fund their expansion.

Brain drain
Of all the highly educated professionals who have abandoned their homelands for pastures greener, Asians are the largest group (35 per cent). Europeans are the second-largest group – they make up 34 per cent of the world’s pool of graduates on the move.

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