Better Place is now open for business in Israel, with four battery switching stations operating, and 40 to be by year’s end.
The experiment in electric mobility offers five-minute battery swaps thus renewal of 100-mile range as quickly as a gasoline stop, making travel feasible from the northern end of the small country to the southern for those driving the roughly 140 and counting Renault Fluence Z.E. cars.
The first adopters of the $32,000 car with leased battery are mostly Better Place employees; Better Place estimates within weeks the general public will begin receiving deliveries with “several hundred” reportedly on order. Leasing companies have also shown substantial interest, ordering 1,800 so far. By year’s end, Better Place said around 5,000 total should be on the road.
The deal involves leasing the battery for $300-500 monthly in a land of $8 per gallon gas. The Fluence is priced on par with comparatively equipped internal combustion vehicles. Fox News reported the entire value proposition offered will shave 20 percent off the cost of owning a conventional car – and saving will be higher as fuel prices rise.
Better Place founder Shai Agassi estimated the “tipping point” in favor of EVs assuming declining car and battery prices, should be in two-three years, and he ambitiously expects half of all new car sales in Israel to be electric by 2017.
If this is so, that would make Agassi even more of an optimist than Renault-Nissans’s Carlos Ghosn, who says by 2020 EVs will comprise 10 percent of new car sales in the far broader market Renault-Nissan is now proffering its goods.
To help offer choices beyond the Fluence, Renault is considering a smaller car compatible with battery swapping, and Better Place is also talking with other automakers. Meanwhile, it is heartened that thus far 80,000 people have expressed interest in its services at its Tel Aviv visitor’s center.
About 80-percent of Israel’s population is clustered in the geographically narrow country and Fox News called Israel the “perfect laboratory” to assess the viability of the replaceable battery system.
Later this year, Denmark is due to begin operating battery switching stations for Renault Fluences as well, followed by Amsterdam as the next European location. The first major market is to be Australia, beginning in Canberra this year, and pilot projects are also slated for Hawaii and California.
This said, eyes are on Israel, and how things go there could determine how things progress everywhere else in which the e-mobility model is expected to proliferate.
Since its founding four-and-a-half years ago, Better Place has raised $750 million. Investors include General Electric and HSBC Holdings PLC, with the largest being The Israel Corp. which also has a stake in Israel’s largest oil refinery and deep water oil drilling. Better Place has spent $400 million in getting started and is months behind schedule, but things appear to be starting now.
Fox observes Agassi’s brain child faces a “wall of skepticism,” as it has also observed of other efforts within the nascent industry intended to wean the world away from oil.
Like the Volt, the Better Place model has the broad goal of eliminating “range anxiety” albeit how Better Place does it is entirely different than adding a gasoline generator on board. Additionally, Better Place says it goes one better by offering cars priced comparatively to conventional ones – actually saving money rather than costing more right off the bat.
Detractors have speculated how the public will receive the Better Place way of doing things. A host of potential pitfalls are in question as the company embarks on proving its way will work, and Agassi is undeterred.
“We’re driving a car that most people said would be a fantasy,” he said.