What's The Real Cost of a Better Place Electric Car in Israel?

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Renault Fluence ZE charging at Better Place charge point in apartment bldg [photo: Brian of London]

Renault Fluence ZE charging at Better Place charge point in apartment bldg [photo: Brian of London]

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Since buying my Better Place Renault Fluence ZE in Israel, I'm frequently asked about the price.

I bought the car because I liked the way it drove and thought it would save me money. I had been looking for a new car, but had no intention of buying a green model as such. I was quickly satisfied that the car's daily range wasn't an issue and that battery switching would take care of occasional long trips.

Renault is not a premium brand in Israel. As owners of electric cars know, however, the quiet smoothness elevates these cars. That grabbed me within seconds of driving the car.

Comparing the total package cost of the Fluence ZE not to an equivalent gasoline Fluence, but to a higher class of car, it's an attractive deal--almost like getting four years of fuel for free.

I received a discount from the published list prices, negotiated before I wrote significantly about Better Place online and long before starting to write for Green Car Reports. I have not received different treatment from other customers since then.

I paid $32,300 (₪126,000, in Israeli shekels) for my car (the better-equipped "Dynamic" model), including the first year's road tax and a code-based security device mandated by insurance companies. I also paid $9,200 (₪36,000) for a four-year subscription to the Better Place package. That price will not go up for four years.

Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

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The combined total: $41,500 (₪162,000). Early adopters are receiving a 50-percent refund of their monthly subscription fee--$82 (₪320)--until the full network of switch stations opens later this year.

When I placed the order in February, I paid a fully refundable deposit of $513 (₪2,000). Better Place then surveyed my home to determine its suitability for installing their Level 2 charge point. They will not sell a car if the owner can't charge at home.

Installation of this charging station took three visits and some negotiation with the residents' committee of my apartment block. It was completed and switched on just before my car was ready.

In early May I paid the balance, and took delivery of the car three weeks later. In a deal negotiated by Better Place, I borrowed 100 percent of the price from a bank at an interest rate 1.5 percent lower than the Israeli Government bank rate (today that rate is 4.0 percent, so I'm paying 2.5 percent).

At today's rates, I'm making payments of $900 (₪3,500) per month for four years. The car (without battery) is mine at the end.

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 car is reasonably well equipped, with the highlight being the integrated navigation and range prediction system (Oscar), which operates in both Hebrew and English, including live traffic data. The same screen runs a full multimedia system. My higher-spec "Dynamic" model adds alloy wheels, parking sensors, and rain sensing wipers.

Better Place supplies a J-1772 charging cable for use at public charge spots (at home my 12-foot-long cable is fixed to the charging station).

The unique part of Better Place is the subscription service I'm forced to buy. There is no way to own the car and battery alone. Even if I could, I would not be allowed to charge the car from a domestic power supply for local regulatory reasons.

The subscription includes:

  • Lease of batteries (including insurance against all loss or damage to the battery)
  • Installation of one charge spot (wherever the car is parked overnight)
  • All electricity: Better Place pays the electricity company directly
  • Unlimited use of Better Place public charge spots
  • Unlimited battery switching
  • Annual mileage of 12,400 miles (20,000 km) per year (packages up to 24,800 miles or 40,000 km are available, with slight savings for higher mileages; mine is the lowest available)
  • Countrywide towing and transportation
  • 24/7 Customer phone service
  • Live monitoring of car's location (most insurance in Israel mandates this)

Not included:

  • Normal full insurance for the car: $900 (₪3500) per year, which is 12 percent cheaper than on my three-year-old Honda Civic
  • Routine car servicing: Yearly or after 18,600 miles (30,000 km), predicted to be less expensive than gas model

For a U.S. comparison, the Renault Fluence might be roughly equivalent to a Toyota Prius hybrid or a 2012 Chevrolet Malibu mid-size sedan.

In Israel, each of those cars costs approximately $41,000 (₪160,000) new, before haggling. Neither includes a factory-installed satellite navigation system, which would add $1,500 (₪6,000), nor the cost of fuel.

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Comments (24)
  1. @ Brian, if you decide to keep the car longer then four years, do you think the lease rate will go down or increase by that time? It doesn't seem to make much sense to buy a car and then have to pay thousands every so often just to keep the part that makes it run. EVs are supposed to have a lower cost of ownership, so which do you think is cheaper over four years a Nissan Leaf or the Renault Fluence ZE? (if either car is purchased not leased)

  2. And if you stop buying gasoline, how far can you get with a gas car?

    The mental leap is to consider the battery not as a fixed part of the car but as 8 years of fuel that Leaf owners have to pay for in advance! It's clear that the marginal cost of the electricity is very low and will continue to be.

    Obviously there are pluses and minuses to a lease of fuel versus outright purchase but I like the way it looks now.

  3. @CDspeed's question there are other aspects to take into consideration. If in fact I do keep the car for more than 4 years, I still expect to enjoy upgrades of the OSCAR and improved batteries as these come on line, since I do not own the car's battery and Better Place will have to from time to time replenish their stock of batteries, based upon commonly accepted inventory practice will enter the newest, compatible batteries into their inventory. My Fluence will remain state of the art.

  4. The second consideration is the fact that contrary to other EVs, with a fixed battery, I am confident that should I decide to sell my Fluence in 4 yours for a new ZOE, for example (once these become compatible for switching)I'll receive a higher value on the Fluence as there is no 'wear and tear' on the primary component that causes the greatest depreciation to current fix battery EVs, i.e. the used battery. I would further hope, although I have no way of predicting this, that EV operational costs would drop, just they way their did in computers, lap tops, mobile phones, tablets, etc as the number of cars on the road increasess.

  5. BTW, as usual fine writing. Brian has a single charging station at home based upon the subscription that he purchased. I however, purchased an 18,641 mile (30K KM) x 4 year subscription for which I paid in the area of $14K and received a second charging station that is scheduled to be installed at my wife's workplace. This will enable us of course to commute 100% with a fully charged battery and do away with any range/charging anxiety whatsoever.

  6. All batteries can be removed. And the what you and David are addressing is yet another anxiety associated with today's batteries, which is battery cost and lifespan. But both cost and lifespan problems will not stay the same forever. Better Place is a good solution due to the way batteries are now, but ten years from now batteries will go further, live longer, and cost less. Plus haveing the battery pulled just to fill up will add wear and tear to the car. Have you ever had an electronic device for a long period of time and noticed that the batteries don't hold in as well and the battery door falls off because it's worn out, well the same thing will happen with battery swapping, but it will hit you with future repair bills.

  7. This wear-and-tear is a function of engineering and testing. I assume Renault has tested the insertion-removal of the battery in much the same way that they tested the opening and closing of the car door. I would expect similar reliability.

    The problem with many electronic gadgets is that they are not adequately engineered and tested for insertion/removal. Car companies are better at this sort of thing.

  8. John's right. Once the novelty wears off most of us won't switch very much. I can see as little as 20 switches a year unless I'm constantly demonstrating it to people.

    Even then, the test cars at the stations have been switching 20 times a day since January and they're still working to the best of my knowledge. I'll ask next time I'm there if they've ever had a failure with that part of the system.

    Overall re-charging the battery out of the car is far better for it because of the temperature control possible.

  9. Brian,

    How would you compare the overall cost of the Fluence to that of:

    a small fuel-efficient gasoline-engine car (e.g., manual Honda Jazz, which costs NIS 100,000)?

    a Toyota Prius?

    Thanks, Larry

  10. I've heard the Jazz Hybrid gets amazing gas mileage but it's still a small feeling car. I believe comparison with the Toyota Prius (which is in the article) is valid and each way I look at it, I'm getting four years of fuel free. That's worth less on a Prius than on a bigger engined car, but its still a lot of cash.

    Nobody knows what the depreciation story is going to be. It could be amazing if Better Place is a big success or it could be horrible. Right now I'm rolling the dice and taking my chances. I wouldn't have thought 3 years ago that the best offer I'd get on my mint condition Honda Civic was ₪55,000.

    If the goal is cheapest motoring, nothing beats used today in Israel. If you want to stop funding Jihad, EV is it!

  11. And that's one of the main points Shai Agassi had when he came up with Better Place. Why are we sending money over to countries that hate us and want to kill us?

  12. Even if they don't want to kill us, the 1974 oil embargo made it clear that there can be political consequences from getting oil from certain parts of the world.

  13. Great article. After years of speculation by both EV proponents and detractors, it's nice to see the numbers spelled out.

    And I learned a thing or two about the Israeli car market - very different than North America.
    +5 to you.

  14. "Finally, it's important to note private buyers like me are rare in Israel. Full 90 percent of new cars are sold to companies that lease them to other companies, which provide them to employees" Not really true only about 60 % of cars are sold by and to companies but even that is a lot

  15. I can't find a straight authoritative answer on this as I've seen the 90% in a few places but nothing firm. If it's 60% I'm happy to be corrected.

  16. $900 US a month is more than what most Slovaks earn, so it'd never be more than a novelty here unfortunately.

  17. Dear Brian,

    In Israel..

    The Fluence costs ₪126,000, in Israeli shekels.
    What's the starting price for:
    The Toyota Corolla 4 door sedan ₪ in Israeli shekels?
    The Honda Civic 4 door sedan ₪ in Israeli shekels?

    Also just to be clear..

    You DIDN'T pay all of the ₪36,000 Israeli shekels for a
    four-year subscription to the Better Place package but only
    the monthly subscription fee of ₪320 Israeli shekels? Right?

    Thanks for any info!

  18. 4 years is ₪36,000 and yes, I Pre-paid all that. That's ₪740 per month. I get back 50% ₪320 per month till they finish the network. People on higher subscriptions get back more (50% of what they pay)

    Corolla and Honda 4 are similar prices to the Fluence ZE. Honda a bit more I think.

  19. Brian,
    Thank you so much for the excellent reporting.

    I am still not a fan of the Better Place model (at least for the USA) but I am trying to keep an open mind.
    John C. Briggs

  20. Thanks John!

    I also don't think the Better Place model works for the US. Essentially they are playing on the difference between liquid fuel and electricity to make their business work. Those are too close together to cover the capital investment in batteries and switch stations for the US.

    The US's geography is a challenge, but the island model could solve it with them able to operate in many locals but I agree, the US isn't a priority because Europe is much more attractive.

  21. It is just so cool to hear about your experience with Better Place rather than just hearing from BP's marketing people.

  22. Actually I am capable of seeing Better Place in quite a number of locations throughout the US. Just as in the company's Australian deployment, where it is starting around Canberra and only later will move northward and westward, who said that Better Place HAD to deploy coast to coast? Why can't it succeed in Hawaii (as it is), why can't it be deployed around the Beltway in DC, or along the NJ turnpike? It would be very easy to deploy in areas like Phoenix to Flagstaff. As Agassi has stated repeatedly each deployment would require no more than the cost of a week's worth of gasoline used in those locations. But again, I am interested in seeing Better Place's success in Australia and it will be successful before coming to the USA.

  23. Interesting concept. Just having charging stations everywhere would probably kill this concept in the states though...


  24. It's all about whether you want 100 extra miles in 50 minutes or 100 miles in 5 minutes. Neither of these matter if you ONLY want 100 miles per day and there are a lot of people and use cases who fit in that bracket.

    If you want the later, someone needs to invest and you need to pay for it.

    In my mind, for the majority of people, fast chargers will not make affordable single car electric motoring practical anytime in the next 10 years.

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