It certainly looks like the automotive future will be electrified. Many automakers are trumpeting current or future models that are either completely or partially powered by flowing electrons instead of burning hydrocarbons.

Toyota (NYSE:TM) leads in both mind share and market share with its gas-electric hybrid Prius. General Motors (NYSE:GM) is holding up the all-electric Chevy Volt as the green future of Detroit. And Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors is wagering that the future is now, provided you have more than $100,000 to pay for its all-electric high-performance Roadster.

But ...
While auto companies seem to have some sense of what it takes to replace the car's internal combustion engine with an electric motor and a battery, there is one problem that may be trickier to solve.

It's a problem that also seems to be taken for granted by the auto companies' grand plans: How do you replace the pump with a plug? In other words, how do you replace the network that moves oil from the well to your tank with a similarly ubiquitous system for getting electricity to your car's battery?

One company, Better Place of Palo Alto, Calif., has a plan. And it's stealing a page from -- of all places -- the mobile phone industry.

The plan
Better Place's plan is to provide the platform that will be required to make zero-emission electric cars feasible. To do so, it first identifies "transportation islands" that have high population densities and a large amount of commuter traffic.

Next, it builds out a recharging network that services the electric cars that will be sold in the area. Better Place then provides consumers access to the network via a subscription model, similar to the mobile phone industry. Much like AT&T (NYSE:T) sells subscribers minutes, Better Place's goal is to own the batteries and pay for the electricity while selling its customers on plans centered on mileage. Recharging will be done through either ubiquitous "charge spots" or fully automated swap stations that will exchange your depleted battery for a fully charged one.

The end result is that consumers get zero-emission vehicles that can be reliably charged up, while Better Place gets a reliable revenue stream and control of the platform that will supply the power for the next generation of transportation.

Is the Better Place system a practical reality or a pie-in-the-sky daydream? It's far too early to say, but since 2007, the company has raised more than $300 million in capital and has commitments to develop networks in Israel, Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii, and Canada.

There's a long way to go before you or I are plugging in to the Better Place network. But the company has a compelling story to tell and it's tackling a facet of the electric car challenge -- the power supply -- that has a potential to be a huge market.

Industry growth
Technology revolutions tend to be fertile places for growth opportunities, and the companies that emerge as big winners tend to be the ones with some sort of control over the platform allowing the new technology to go mainstream.

Think of what Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was able to do by owning the standard platform for the PC industry. If the electric car is truly the future of the auto industry, whoever figures out how to supply those electrons could become the ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) of the new millennium.

Will it be Better Place? I'm not willing to place any bets, but there are likely going to be a few great investing stories in the electrified auto industry. Smart investors should keep an eye on the technologies that will change our lives -- in so doing, you can gain early insight into the companies that will profitably bring those technologies to market.

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Mark Kennedy does not own shares of any companies mentioned. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.