Better Place Electric Renault Fluence ZE In Israel: 1st Week

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It's been just over a week since I picked up my all-electric Renault Fluence ZE--one of 110 Better Place customers to do so during May, according to the company.

I've now put on 430 all-electric miles in nine days of driving.

I've charged the car predominantly at home, with a couple of extra top-ups at a local shopping mall and one battery switch. (I can only charge the car from Better Place charging points.)

So far, Better Place has only four switch stations open, though these put much of Israel within range. They are not available all the time yet, so early customers like me are advised to call ahead and make sure a station will be ready to receive a customer. Customer service on the phone has been excellent.

I actually didn't intend to switch my battery when I visited the same Modi'in station where Nikki filmed her video a few weeks ago. I arrived late on a Friday night while just driving around for fun (remember when you used to do that?).

My battery was at 59 percent, and I would have been able to make it home with at least 25 percent remaining.

But the attendant at the station saw me and came out to ask if I wanted to switch. I said sure! I had gone through the swapping experience in a test car, but this time it was the car I had actually paid for. Everything went smoothly.

I momentarily wondered if the battery would be as good as the "new" one that came with my car, but then I remembered, I'd likely be swapping two or three times a month--so I really didn't have to care.

Better Place announced this week that its customers have now driven more than 1 million electric kilometers (roughly 620,000 miles) in Israel and Denmark combined.

Previously, I drove a UK-built Honda Civic five-door hatchback--which was a pleasure to drive. The nature of its VTEC engine, though, meant it was only really quick at 5,000 rpm and above--so using that power wasn't something I did very often.

2012 Renault Fluence ZE electric car, powered by Better Place in Israel [photo: Brian of London]

2012 Renault Fluence ZE electric car, powered by Better Place in Israel [photo: Brian of London]

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The electric Renault is 11 inches longer than my Honda Civic, and I can certainly feel the added length when reversing into my parking space at home.

Passenger space is a little bigger in the Renault, but the trunk is compromised by the battery. My Civic could take two full-size suitcases lying down in the load bay with room on top: the Renault can only take one, standing up.

The Fluence ZE interior is neither especially interesting nor beautiful. Its only bright point is the integrated navigation and entertainment system. Better Place's own "Oscar" software interface combines navigation, CD, Radio, MP3, and vehicle-charging diagnostics into a single system.

Oscar predicts the charge level at each point in a multi-stop journey. So far, in the relatively flat central region of Israel, it's been accurate to within 2 percent.

I'm told that in more mountainous regions, it's not so good--but that a forthcoming update to account for topology will help.

I'm using the Oscar interface in English, but it works in Hebrew too. There are some issues there; it would be better if I could enter destinations in Hebrew, but I can't do that. Spelling a Hebrew place name in English characters is often an ambiguous process (the well-known Caesarea is sometimes spelled Qesaria!).

But the electric Renault Fluence ZE has the feel of a very much larger executive sedan, and it's extraordinarily quiet, even at speed. That gives it the feel of something much more expensive.

And the smooth, gearless acceleration of electric drive is delightful.

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Comments (13)
  1. Brian, you said in the article that you prepaid your subscription up to 50,000 miles. What did that add to your total cost when you picked up your car? And if you don't mind me asking what was the final cost with the base price, additional options, and the 4 year prepaid subscription?

  2. I will do an article next on the exact price of the vehicle with a comparison to other new cars in Israel.

    Just as a teaser: I walked into a Chevy dealer this week: a brand new Chevy Malibu 2.4l with less equipment (i.e. no integrated sat nav and an inferior media system) costs almost exactly what I paid for my car INCLUDING four years of fuel.

    That's four years of fuel at just shy of $8 per gallon (today's price) for free. Can you see the attraction?

  3. Can you buy the car and not subscribe?

  4. No.

    Car is sold like a Chinese toy: batteries not included.

    See this for more details:

  5. That's one thing I don't like, when you can buy something but your stuck with a company telling you what your allowed to do with it. I want to buy or finance a car and be able to charge it where ever I want and have the ability to choose not to subscribe if I don't want to. I'm also not a fan of billing people to death, paying for a charge when your not at home is a simple purchase. But what will Better Place do if you stop paying, come and take the battery?

  6. I've already paid 100% of the car and 4 years subscription up front. I now owe the bank. If I stop paying them (either component) they'll take the car.

    BTW I can cancel with 90 days notice or 0 days if I find someone to take over the subscription and buy my car from me. Even though I've paid for 4 years, I'm not held to any contract. I can also increase my KMs at any time (though not decrease because I'm at the lowest level).

  7. @CDspeed there are a number of things you need to take into consideration. Better Place is the first EV infrastructure company to enter the Israeli market. The "Catholic Wedding" with them might very well change when additional players enter the game. Secondly, the Israeli government has regulated that EVs can only be charged from managed charging stations, to prevent overloading the country's electric grid. We are not billed to death, only once actually, it's fire and forget for 4 years. Go ahead take the battery, you can pay Better Place the extra $12K and where exactly will you charge it as no charging infrastructure exists in the country other than that of Better Place's system.

  8. @ David, I didn't mean that Better Place bills you to death I meat that continuing to come up with mandatory pay services in and world that is already in debt will only ad to some households pile of bills. As for Israel I've never been and admittedly don't know how things work there, so I've only ever commented on Better Place as a charging solution in a global sense. Better Place may work best in smaller countries, so it may be the best solution for Israel, but that's something I don't have any knowledge of, so my comments don't involve Israel because I feel I have no right to say anything about Israel.

  9. Also, perhaps, for context, how much your Civic would cost in Israel.

  10. A new Civic 5 door like mine is a similar price to the Chevy but with a smaller engine. I'd have a guess (without driving that Chevy 2.4) that the 1.8l Honda would be nicer to drive though! Honda is a much more desirable brand in Israel than Chevy (or Renault for that matter).

    One distinct problem is that the Renault importer has ONLY brought poor spec models for the corporate lease market for years so it has a downmarket image in Israel. Nothing I can do about that, people keep saying to me "but it's just a Renault!" while I know it drives more like a Lexus.

  11. Excellent reporting. It is great to hear about these vehicles from someone that lives with them day to day.

  12. But, whats about the most important thing, the Better Place rates, and the battery leasing.

  13. For my next piece I'll do a full run down on the economics as a customer including a primer in the new car market in Israel.

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