Better Place saga ends in tragedy

When Better Place was founded in 2007, it was a promising new company, with a visionary leader in Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi, and several good ideas, notably a strategy of concentrating on places that are likely to be early adopters of electrification (Israel, Denmark, Hawaii).

Better Place raised around $850 million from investors, and got lots of good press – Agassi was featured in the book “Start-Up Nation,” and was named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2009. Israeli President Shimon Peres publicly praised the company.

Alas, it gradually became clear that the firm’s focus on battery switching was a tragic flaw. Each automaker has its own strong opinions on the best shape and configuration for an EV battery, and it was never likely that they would agree on a standard. Furthermore, swapping could be a transitional technology at best – someday, higher-capacity batteries and/or wireless charging will make it unnecessary.

The only production model equipped with Better Place’s battery swapping technology is the Renault Fluence Z.E., which has not exactly been a big hit. Better Place planned to order 100,000 of the electric sedans, but to date only about 2,500 have been sold. Earlier this month, Renault/Nissan head Carlos Ghosn seemed to say that the company had lost interest in battery-swapping technology.

In late 2012, Better Place abandoned its US and Australian operations, Agassi left the company, and his successor, Evan Thornley, quit after two months. Reuters reported that the company had a deficit of $561 million, and that efforts to raise more funds were unsuccessful. This week, Better Place announced that it has filed for liquidation.

“Unfortunately, after a year’s commercial operation, it was clear to us that despite many satisfied customers, the wider public take up would not be sufficient and that the support from the car producers was not forthcoming,” said Chief Executive Dan Cohen in a statement.

The Board of Directors said in a written statement, “This is a very sad day for all of us. We stand by the original vision as formulated by Shai Agassi of creating a green alternative that would lessen our dependence on highly polluting transportation technologies. Unfortunately, the path to realizing that vision was difficult, complex and littered with obstacles, not all of which we were able to overcome.”


Sources: AP, Washington Post, Cnet, Reuters

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