Early Better Place Customer On Israel Electric-Car Experience

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With no local fanfare or announcements, electric car network provider Better Place has started delivering cars to its first paying customers in Israel.

One the first customers is David Rose, who reserved his car in October 2011. His home charging spot was installed a month after he submitted his reservation, and he waited until last week to receive his car.

Better Place has had a fleet of around 100 Renault Fluence ZE cars in the hands of employees since January, who use them on the country's roads.

In Israel, Better Place sells the Renault sedan without a battery. The sale is combined with a battery lease and a mileage-based subscription plan that includes the cost of the electricity necessary to drive those miles.

Electricity is supplied at owners' homes, public charging stations or via automated battery-switch stations that can replace a drained battery with a full one in 5 minutes. Each of these supply sources is operated and paid for by Better Place.

Installation of the home charging station, which draws electricity from a separate supply, is included in the package cost. Higher-mileage subscribers (those who contract for more than 16,000 miles per year) get two charging stations, usually for home and work.

The subscriber sees no bills from the electric utility for the added power devoted to car charging.

Controversially, no electric car will be permitted to operate in Israel without this subscription package. Legally, charging electric vehicles from normal domestic electricity supply is not allowed.

Fully networked smart grids--and Better Place has the only one at present--are the only allowable outlets to recharge electric vehicles, in the name of protecting Israel's electric grid.

Renault Fluence ZE electric cars in Israel, provided by Better Place [photo: Better Place]

Renault Fluence ZE electric cars in Israel, provided by Better Place [photo: Better Place]

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Aside from the Renault Fluence ZE available through Better Place, no other plug-in electric vehicle is offered for sale in Israel today. This has been a source of criticism as it sets Better Place up as the sole supplier of electrified personal transport.

Rose's car was delivered to his home on a car transporter with a fully-charged battery. He voluntarily opted to take the car with a full pack of promotional stickers and labels announcing it as an electric car.

The car replaces a Mazda6 sedan, one of the most popular mid-size cars in Israel and one that's heavily used by fleets.

Renault Fluence ZE electric cars in Israel, provided by Better Place [photo: Better Place]

Renault Fluence ZE electric cars in Israel, provided by Better Place [photo: Better Place]

Enlarge Photo

Better Place says its Fluence ZE is competitive on price and features with the smaller Mazda3 compact. Rose calculates that at the current pump price (roughly $8 per US Gallon), he will save at least $200 per month after paying the fixed subscription cost for electricity.

Rose says the car will be used primarily for his wife's drive to work, a round trip of 66 miles through the northern hills of Israel above the Sea of Galilee (known locally as the Kinneret).

After his first drive along the route, the car returned home with 26 percent charge remaining in the battery. That reserve correlated well to the prediction shown by the integrated GPS system.

Rose says the GPS system has already alerted him to heavy traffic, leading him to deviate from his usual route: the crowd-sourced iPhone app Waze gave him similar information. He's already noticed, however, that slow-moving heavy traffic extends the car's range.

Rose is now waiting for his wife's employer (an Israeli regional council) to give belated permission for Better Place to install a second charge spot at her office--as included in his subscription plan--to allow all-day charging.

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Comments (21)
  1. Rather ironic that Israel has billions of barrels of shale oil, now
    very commercially attractive given the high price of oil.

  2. Agreed. According to some Israel has the 3rd largest deposit of oil shale in the world and it's reserves could be equal to Saudi Arabia's. Of course getting it out of the ground isn't easy and no serious production is expected before 2020.

    Shale oil is always going to be expensive to produce though. Better Place may yet be able to stay competitive.

  3. When economists consider the cost of externalities borne by the whole economy, ventures that are commercially attractive for a few players can be economically a poor choice overall for growing the standard of living achieved within the economy. Shale oil could always be exported, eliminating the costs of externalities unfunded by the sector. This would transfer the costs of burning the oil (but not the costs of mining and processing) onto outside economies while retaining the profits. Israel with it's relatively short driving distances would then be able to enjoy all of the advantages of clean, efficient electric propulsion, while exporting shale oil to those with a greater need for it from because of their geography. Yes ironic.

  4. "Controversially, no electric car will be permitted to operate in Israel without this subscription package. Legally, charging electric vehicles from normal domestic electricity supply is not allowed."

    Thanks for making this plain and clear. Better Place has been cagey about these issues.

    Perhaps in a future post (or maybe you have already made one) you could explain the relative economics of Better Place versus ICE and how much Israel Government subsidy is making this possible and whether or not you think this model will work in the land of $4/gallon gas (rather than $8/gallon).

  5. It's all based on tax breaks; Better Place targets countries with huge taxes on gas ánd cars like Israel and Denmark and makes deals with the governments for lower taxes so they can compete. Clearly in Israel they tried to get a complete energy monopoly for EVs by getting home charging banned as well. That didn't quite succeed though. New regulations bar a supplier such as Better Place and Gnergy from requiring that their customers use only their own company's facilities. As a result the Israel Electric Corporation will greatly undercut the rates that Better Place is offering by charging the same rate for charging an electric car battery that consumers pay for their home electricity consumption.

  6. ....based on:


  7. I think the whole area is ripe for a full article purely on the economics of the Better Place model in Israel. I will work on something comprehensive. The Ha'aretz article isn't giving a full picture (nothing new there).

    But from Better Place's PR the fundamentals of their business is selling miles, a service and a battery lease. The more miles the better. They're not a car company and they profit from the arbitrage between gasoline and electricity when used for transport. They're not going after low milage drivers in Israel: 20,000 kms per year is their lowest price point which is way above average for Israel. It is not reasonable to compare the cost to of a BP subs to buying electricity alone.

  8. Regardless of economics, I think the Israel case can serve as a warning against initiatives like Better Place that appear to seek to replace Big Oil as transportation energy monopolists. Israel must be the only country in the world where homecharging is banned as a result, in what appears to be a (failed) effort to force EV drivers to sign up battery lease initiatives like Better Place.

  9. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. At 20,000km (12,500 miles) per year, BP is setting up a false comparison. They are comparing the cost per electric mile (that you must buy)with the cost per gasoline mile (that you only buy what you need), a la cart, if you will.

    Of course, the ecological and energy security concerns are still significant factors to consider in advancing electric vehicle.

  10. If you buy an expensive new car, insure it and then sit around staring at it because you can't afford to gas it up then your cost per mile goes through the roof because you divide the depreciation against few miles.

    Most people have a realistic desire to travel and perhaps even travel more than they do now.

    I looked at the end to end proposition including the essential (in my opinion) lease of the battery. Today I wouldn't buy a $15,000 LiON battery. I also wouldn't compromise on a car without the range to drive to Jerusalem and back and currently nothing short of a Tesla can do that.

    I would love there to be other EV's on sale and another competing charge system. I'm going to investigate how real their plans are next week.

  11. Actually in the case of Israel, Better Place is not seeking nor have they received any government subsidies, the entire project is based upon private capital. Anyone of you is more than welcome to setup an infrastructure to charge my car, no one can stop you from doing it. IEC will not undercut Better Place's rates unless they decide to create a company for a EV charging network, because Israeli regulations still require that EVs be charged on a managed grid.

  12. USA has huge incentive on electric car and price of cars are very low , more on Better Place USA business plan here : http://youtu.be/PJ3nnr18UEk

  13. Pretty telling that they have to outlaw cheap at home charging to allow Better Place to exist. Luckily it has no chance at all here in the US.

  14. I was shocked to read they outlawed home charging by any other means - completely absurd and monopolistic. Now that my solar panels are up I'm charging my car for approx $25/month. Battery and charging technologies will improve by leaps over the coming years, and we should be very careful to not allow current weaknesses to encourage a new assault on personal freedom via a fresh monopoly! California already has plans to build fast charge stations along freeways soon - I can wait.

  15. What do you mean by no local fanfare? Better Place has invested in PR more than any other Israeli clean tech company I have heard of. I think they burned through their millions BECAUSE they focused on local fanfare and PR and not enough on making the technology cost affordable to the every man.


  16. In Israel, the Better Place commercial had a two week run on TV. That is not a significant expenditure when compared to other consumer products. I don't understand the point of making the technology affordable to every person. Just compare the cost of the Fluence ZE to any comparably sized vehicle or hybrids on the market and I paid either the same or a lot less. Yes if I wanted a smaller, less comfortable and less technologically advanced car, I could have paid less, but only on the purchase of the car. Everything else would in the long run cost more.

  17. I really shouldn't rise but ....

    Please find one other article saying deliveries to CUSTOMERS in Israel have occurred. I couldn't so I wrote one.

    Whoever at Ynet (the source of the report you cite) wrote that Better Place "lost" ₪1.5 billion or allowed a translation into English of that term should be fired or at least removed from all financial journalism.

    Investments are not "lost" until a company fails and goes out of business. Simple. Before you make money (generally) you invest money. In a big infrastructure project like Better Place you invest a ton of money before you make any back.

    Try selling a new product before you've made it: not even Apple can pull a stunt like that.

  18. What you all fail to see is a tendency by Israelis not to support the local guy who does well, jealousy if you will. As an Israeli myself I can make this charge with impunity but none of you should try it at home. As Brian noted so correctly, the real headline of the Ynet article and that of The Marker should've been "Better Place Invests 1.5B NIS in Developing Worldwide EV Charging Network" but hey that would sound to positive,especially for Ynet. As for banning home charging, this makes sense in Israel, it has less to do with economics than the inability of Israel's electrical grid to bear any additional burden, particularly one that would occur if every Tom, Haim and David would plug in his own EV however he wished.

  19. The current situation of a managed grid will enable Israel to handle up to 2 million EVs on the road without adding any additional means of power generation. In the case of high demand the IEC can put V2Grid into effect and the Better Place network will assist the Israeli power grid to handle peak demand.

  20. Lastly a monopoly can exist only if the regulator prohibits the entry of additional entities into the EV charging market. Since the case is exactly the opposite, no monopoly can exist and you are welcome to put your money where your mouth is by creating your own EV charging network. Better Place will not and cannot oppose your efforts.

  21. Sigh. I would love to have an electric vehicle with replaceable battery as my next car, but seem to be living in the worst possible location to realize that dream. I live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. So I am 3000 miles away from the SF Bay Area roll out and even farther from Hawaii. I am driving a 2000 Toyota Carolla with about 70,000 miles on it, thanks to good public transportation and many amenities within walking distance from my home. Right now I only see the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf as my choices, both beyond my price range, and unlikely to be "future proofed." The Volt still has a tailpipe and the Leaf has a fixed, not a replaceable battery.

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