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One Year With Better Place: Electric-Car Driver's Report Page 2

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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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I've switched twice or more on 17 days, though some of those occurred early on when there was only one switch station open on the way to Jerusalem. There are now four or five depending on the route, so sub-optimal switches can be largely avoided--making Jerusalem a one- or no-switch trip (if I can slow charge in a mall parking lot.)

My most common out-of-range trip remains a run to Jerusalem and back, often skirting Ramallah just to the North of Jerusalem. This route has me covering 105 miles (170 km) in a day.

Another common trip is to Haifa and back, around 125 miles (200 km). I never consider driving more slowly to conserve battery range, and I've never turned off the air conditioning either. I've used the car's heater on the rare occasions it was needed.

Battery Switching

In the early days this was a bit of an event. An attendant would emerge from the station as you arrived, ask your name and offer a cup of water. Today it's a little different: I haven't seen an attendant at a switch station since the start of the year.

Better Place has quickly transitioned to unattended stations. In addition to the simple arm barrier, the stations now have roller shutters which keep curious locals from wandering inside them. These lift automatically as you arrive.

All the stations have big glass viewing windows to the side, and if they're located appropriately--there's one in an open mall car park in the North for example--they nearly always draw a crowd when a car pulls in for a switch.

I haven't experienced any failures during a switch, but one of my fellow customers has. On his way back to his home in Jerusalem he experienced a failure mid-switch. After a few attempts to remotely clear the problem, the Better Place call center advised him and his wife to leave their car.

The door to the station office was remotely opened, and the keys to a fully charged replacement vehicle were sitting on the desk. They drove home in that car, and the following morning their car was returned to them.

The whole failure and recovery took about the same amount of time as replacing a flat tire. Obviously the station was marked out of service for all other drivers, but this is automatic and nearby drivers receive an alert on their in-car Oscar telematics system.

Breakdowns

In one year, my car has failed me twice: the first was a fault that allowed the car to keep driving. Though I didn't know it at the time, I could have cleared that fault by driving myself to a switch station for a new battery. Better Place actually gave me a replacement car and took mine away for a few days.

The other fault was a failed motor. That required a tow truck and another replacement car, again identical to mine. Two days later my motor had been replaced and the car was returned to me.

Both these failures were dealt with brilliantly by Better Place and Renault together, and I can't fault the service.

Range prediction and software

In February Better Place issued a major over-the-air software upgrade to the Oscar in-car navigation and entertainment system. (As a note, Tesla was not the first company to provide this service, as Better Place has been doing this since January 2012--before the Model S was released.)


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Comments (5)
  1. Renault have the Master and the small Kangoo vans for delivery services. If there were electric versions of this with suitchtable batteries should be a great increase in costumers for Better Place.
     
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  2. Great article and description.

    Better Place seems like a decent fit for a country that doesn't have significant interstate / international driving destinations.

    However, the Tesla Model S still seems like the future.
     
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  3. It's a great update - thank you for sharing your experience. It looks like a perfect setup in a small country like Israel and it's too bad there's so little support for it. The electric motor failure is, in my eyes, unacceptable though... In your blog you mention that it should be good for "more than 100,000 km" - that's also unacceptable - I thought these things were durable and would outlast any gas engine. I still hope I'm not mistaken but a long-term ownership of this car (as opposed to leasing) would be out of the question at this point. All of my cars have always been trouble-free for over 10 years, even with minimum maintenance, so I'm now really worried about my LEAF :-(
     
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  4. Well rounded. i need to add a couple of points.
    My first car was totalled by a van blindsiding me on the rear door and panel. The damage was extensive but I was unhurt. The car was still able to drive up the tow truck ramp.
    The new, identical car has been driven 26K miles in one year, took long trips which required batt-swaps, the overall experience is improving, and the better place service is second to none
    i have not had any malfunctions
    The switchable architectures assures me that when denser batteries are available Better Place will press them into service, if only to reduce the number of required swaps and the likelihood of queues forming up at certain times.
     
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  5. well they are filing for bankruptcy today.... what timing...
     
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