How's Better Place Doing In Israel These Days?

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Better Place user David Rose w/keys to Renault Fluence ZE electric car in Israel [photo: David Rose]

Better Place user David Rose w/keys to Renault Fluence ZE electric car in Israel [photo: David Rose]

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The Better Place electric-car system has not had a good run of news lately.

But despite little attention, it has managed to boost the sales rate in Israel for its cars, along with subscriptions to its battery-switching service.

Deliveries for all of 2012 were 518 cars. Roughly the first 100 were cars for internal use by Better Place itself.

Deliveries to customers began in April 2012, and switch stations began opening for customer use only in June 2012.

There was no concerted marketing effort until September, which coincided almost exactly with the ousting of founder Shai Agassi--and a sudden drop in confidence in the company and its plan.

Following the subsequent rapid promotion and removal of another CEO, Moshe Kaplinsky--and then a third, Evan Thornley--the company began to execute a much more down-to-earth marketing plan. 

Much of the campaign has focused on how happy the early customers of Better Place have been with their Renault Fluence ZE cars. It includes a visible advertising campaign in print and display media, along with radio commercials--but no television ads.

The marketing is aimed primarily at explaining the ownership experience, and the financial benefits. An altruistic green agenda? Not in the forefront.

At the same time, however, Better Place also reportedly began renegotiating its deal with Renault to buy up to 100,000 Fluence ZE electric cars by 2016.

New sales deals have also emerged, the latest a partnership with an Israeli department store to sell a new leasing deal.

This year, Better Place has reported the following sales figures:

  • Jan: 102
  • Feb: 113
  • Mar: 82
  • Apr: 125

A couple of notes: Deliveries last December were less than 10--but January was Better Place's best-ever month. March deliveries were low because the Passover holiday cut the number of working days dramatically; most Israeli businesses experience the same slowdown.

Better Place Renault Fluence ZE on the streets of Jerusalem

Better Place Renault Fluence ZE on the streets of Jerusalem

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The total deliveries of 422 cars through April represents 0.5 percent to 0.8 percent of the Israeli car market. The Better Place total matches sales of the well-established Toyota Prius, at 400 thus far this year. The best-selling car in Israel this year is the Ford Focus, at 4,512.

Comparing Israel to the U.S. (8 million people versus 311 million), the April figure of 125 cars--adjusted for much higher U.S. car ownership--would equate to sales of 8,888 cars a month in the U.S.

Better Place has finally managed to garner orders from major fleet buyers as it continues to sell and lease to private individuals.

And Israel has no grand subsidy schemes for owners, as are found across Europe--and the import subsidy Better Place receives is probably less than U.S. Federal income-tax credit of $7,500 per car.

There are also no incentives like free parking or reduced toll fees, nor is there legislation to force condominium owners to allow installation of home charging--or to help keep public charging spots clear of gasoline cars.

Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

Enlarge Photo

Recent statements by Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Nissan Renault Alliance, that the Renault Fluence ZE would be the company's only car with switchable batteries have been misinterpreted in some outlets to indicate cancellation of the car.

Renault has confirmed that the Fluence ZE (Hebrew link) will continue, and that it will receive the same cosmetic upgrade already launched in the gasoline version. And, more important, it will also get batteries with increased range.

While these new batteries should be offered for use by existing Better Place customers, details of how that would occur are not clear yet.

Also not yet clear: Whether this increased sales level will be enough to allow the company to attract the investment it still needs to keep going.

Brian of London emigrated from the UK to Israel in 2009. He owns and operates his own import company in Israel with more than 15 staff. Today he regularly blogs at Israellycool.comabout life in Israel, technology & business topics and, lately, his electric-car driving experiences


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Comments (10)
  1. Thanks for the update. Better Place is doing better than I expected.

  2. Well congrats to them, I suppose it's one way to get rid of their dependance of oil from their neighbours. Trying not to get political here but it's very important for them, after all when you're the only non-Islamic country in the Middle East... you're bound to get finger pointing and threatened.

  3. I think one of Better place biggest problems is the car they have on offer. In its home market Renault has managed to sell all of 5 (not a typo: five!!) Fluences so far this year. And it's not that the French don't like the idea of battery rental; the attractive Zoe found 2347 new owners in the first 4 months.

    I think Better place was so focussed on being a business model that it forgot that at the end of the day it's about the cars.

  4. @Chris: I believe that sales figure of 5 is for the ZE electric version of the Fluence.

    There are also diesel and gasoline versions that sell in rather higher numbers.

  5. @ John Voelcker: Obviously I mean the ZE version. Yes, there is a ICE version, but that's not exactly the same model. For one it's 5 inches shorter but also -and more importantly- it doesn't have most of its bootspace filled up with a big battery drop system.

  6. Without battery switch I agree the Fluence ZE isn't the best EV. I do believe the French govt ordered 2000 Zoe's off the bat which may well be in that sales number you gave.

    The petrol Fluence is a very common sight in Israel however and I now see other ZEs on every trip I make.

  7. Good point about the role of the French government. They have in fact ordered 2100 Zoe's but I think that is supposed to be delivered over a period of three years.

    Having no cargo space to speak off doesn't make any type of EV an acceptable offering for families.

  8. I have to answer the thing about the luggage space. The boot (I refuse to lower my standards and speak America ;-) holds one full size suitcase and a standard rollaway overhead bag. Yes, it should hold two but it doesn't.

    In one year I've used my wife's big Santa Fe twice because of luggage space, that is all. I've also used it to deliver laptops to customers (more than 40 fit if you use the back seats). For 99% of my life its plenty big enough and convenient shape too.

  9. Having driven 40K kilometers I can assure the readers the car is a hard, nimble worker, its fun and capable to drive, and it saved me 20K shequels (about 5K dollars) in gasoline and maintenance. Do you know what is a 20K mile service? Its a systems check and swap two air-filters. That is all. As for the batt-drop system, it keeps improving. Most of the time I dont need it because i drive on the home charger. Going to another city (Tel Aviv) 60 miles away I switch once, on the way home. I f we had the 7500 dollar incentive the car would cost 13-15K dollars!! But we dont.

  10. While this is all interesting and BP has a potentially workable business model in some small countries with cooperative automakers, here's an interesting note from the latest update of California's ZEV Mandate from the state's Air Resources Board staff:
    Slide 9 of a ppt to be presented Monday, 5/20:
    Designate battery swapping as ineligible for meeting fast refueling capability.
    Take that, Shai, for abandoning the US market!

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