Better Place Electric-Car Service Files For Bankruptcy

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Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

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Better Place, the electric-car service that pioneered battery swapping for passenger cars, filed for bankruptcy yesterday in Israel.

A statement on the Better Place website said it had applied to a court for an orderly dissolution of the company to protect "the rights of its employees, customers and creditors."

Today is the first business day of the week in Israel.

Over its five years of existence, Better Place raised roughly $800 million in venture capital and assistance from national governments in multiple countries.

The service finally launched in Israel early last year, and since then it has attracted roughly 2,000 users.

The Better Place model required the customer to buy a vehicle--the only eligible vehicle was the 2012 Renault Fluence ZE, a mid-size sedan made in Turkey by France's Renault--but lease the battery pack from the company.

Customers paid a set fee for up to a certain number of miles (kilometers) covered a year, recharging the cars on charge stations installed at their homes and businesses by Better Place as well as on a network of public charging stations.

For longer journeys, customers would drive to the limits of their battery and then be directed to the nearest switching station, where a freshly charged battery pack would be swapped into the car by automated machinery in less than 5 minutes.

Our author Brian of London recently wrote about his experiences after one year as a Better Place customer.

Now, he has written in depth about his first reactions and his sadness at the company's demise.

In its statement, the Better Place board of directors said it stood behind the original vision of founder Shai Agassi for the network and electric-car service.

"Unfortunately, after a year’s commercial operation, it was clear to us that despite many satisfied customers, the wider public take up would not be sufficient," the statement said, "and that the support from the car producers was not forthcoming."

Details on how the closure of will be handled, how customers will be treated, and the fate of the Better Place cars are likely to emerge after the court hearing and over the coming weeks.


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Comments (39)
  1. It's indeed a shame, but I'm going to say it anyway:
    "I told you this would happen."

  2. Yep, battery swapping is a dead end.

  3. I wouldn't jump to that conclusion too quickly. I think a modified form of battery swapping could work, where you buy a car with a battery suitable for daily use and then lease a large battery for extended travel on the supercharger network for long trips. I expect Tesla to introduce some form of this model, and they have at least one customer who is very interested.

  4. Superchargers are also a dead-end.

    Let me quote Elon Musk:
    "If you’re a newcomer product, it’s really not enough to just be as good as the incumbent product, because people are used to what they’re used to – people are set in their ways."

    To compete with liquid fuel filling stations, you need to charge a large BEV-300 SUV with a 160kWh battery in 10 minutes. 160kWh divided by 1/6 hour is right around a megawatt.

    So we're talking about average consumers plugging megawatt cables into vehicles covered with ice and snow. The cable system tests for shorts initially, but once 1,000,000 watts starts flowing, if ice melts and causes a short - kaboom! A megawatt can vaporize things. Things like fingers and hands...

  5. Here's another quote from Elon Musk:
    "I read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and it highlighted an important point, which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer. And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part."

    OK, so here are 3 questions:

    Q: Can corn ethanol completely replace gasoline, with no affect on food supply?
    A: No.

    Q: Can cellulosic ethanol completely replace gasoline, with no affect on food supply?
    A: No.

    Q: Can EVs with range extenders running on cellulosic ethanol completely replace gasoline, with no affect on food supply?
    A: Yes.

    People who bash ethanol only consider the first 2 questions. They don't consider that ethanol may be a viable part of a broader solution.

  6. I'm afraid the only 'dead end' the the fossil fuel ICE as the cost of fuel will kill the whole concept in 5 to 10 years, 20 at most.

    So we are going to have to find an acceptable alternative. Existing EV tech is fine for 'average' use (35m/day BTW) and probably for most buses and trucks too.

    For this type of use, refuelling times are irrelevant as you'll charge your EV wherever you stop (at work or at home) and it'll be ready for another days use when you return to it.

  7. (cont...)

    If you took an hour to charge instead of 10 minutes - not unreasonable after driving for *4 hours* (160kWh/400Wh per mile) your 1MW comes down to a reasonable 200kW. Drive a sensible car at a sensible speed (or drive foe 2 hours and stop for 30 mins) and you would only need half that. Oh! The Supercharger does that already!

    Alternatively, dynamic inductive charging (charging on the move) could be the answer for major highways.


  8. There are more comments in this thread
  9. Business is always a difficult proposition.
    If this $800M is all flushed down the drain, they could have used the money to give away 20,000 EVs at $40,000each. That does not include whatever investment was required on Renault's side of the equation.

  10. Which $40K ev would we give away? There isn't any, which is the point.

  11. I'm a little lost. All modern EVs are about $40K with the exception of the Tesla.
    Nissan Leaf
    Mitsu I-miev
    Ford Focus EV
    Etc Etc

  12. When they started I wasn't sure where it would go, but I had my concerns being that Better Place was trying to start an infrastructure for swapping and they seemed to be the only ones doing it. It's hard enough to get into electric cars but the enormous task of setting up the infrastructure and getting auto manufacturers to sign up just seemed like too big of an undertaking. I think they simply were crushed under the weight of their own business, the idea was too big and had very little support to back it up.

  13. Large capacity Batteries and supercharging spells the end of Battery swapping. Why replace it if you can have 80% of a full charge within 1/2 an hour or a full charge in 45 minutes. Also every battery pack is different and it is not feasible to stock different battery packs for different EV cars. I think Tesla is going to have free charging at their Tesla Supercharging stations for a limited time only. Once they sell enough Model S cars and possibly the Model X SUV EV's they will most likely start charging a nominal fee to cover the cost of the electricity. I think it's a way to drive sales right now. Remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. Enjoy it while it lasts. Imagine having free charging if you live close by a charge station!

  14. Bill Cilnton told Shai Agaasi to give the for free, if he wants to company to be successful. They basically became n electrisety company. The car was way too expensive.

  15. I guess you meant, give the CAR for free.

    I too think that the lease should have been just part of the monthly/yearly service fee, or at the very least it should have been an option. I can easily see the significant comittment required to use the service (buy a new, specific car) being a deal-breaker for many.

    Sad to see another EV-related company go, likely leaving customers stuck with a suddenly much-less capable vehicle.

    Failures may be a sign of an industry maturing, but probably will only reinforce negative preconceptions about it in the short term...

  16. Sorry. I did mean the car. I just finished watching the Israeli news, and this was the top story. I agree that Better Place paved the way. The lesson is, the car must be much cheaper to make buying electrisety worth it. Agaasi wanted to win both ways. He got fired and the company is now bankrupt. Poor people who now are stuck with a useless car.

  17. Just read an article by an Israeli who bought a Renault via Better Place and says its the most reliable car he ever owned, and has no intention of selling it. There are still those battery swapping places and chargers in Israel, and he says he can get by with them. Someone will operate them somehow.

  18. As long as you can just plug the car in to recharge, it's still useful. Just because you CAN swap the battery, doesn't mean you HAVE to.

  19. Bear in mind that all the chargers and swap stations are controlled by Better Place, so if the Better Place network shuts down, all the chargers might stop working.

    This is the problem with closed systems.

  20. The soldier who goes "point" is usually the first killed. Better Place, from tiny Israel, paved the way that many will follow in the future eventually. Just the other day, Elon Musk of Tesla intimated that the mid-range, $30,000 model expected to arrive in four years may use battery swapping. Battery swapping means that you don't buy the battery, and hence the price of the car by itself is that much cheaper. Instead, you lease the battery and buy "miles" and the battery switching service. Of course, if the cost of battery packs come down significantly, and/or better batteries increase the range, and recharging get much faster, there may be no need for swapping at all. So whether or not swapping makes sense or not will depend on all that.

  21. Here's the difference between battery swapping and fast "supercharging." Let's say you want to take a 1,500 mile trip with an EV that gives you 75 miles per supercharge, and each recharge takes a half hour. That means 20 stops, or 10 hours of charging just to get there. Ten hours is unacceptable. Might as well fly. But an automated battery swap takes only 5 minutes. That's a little over an hour and a half in total, which is within reason. Also, you didn't buy the battery and so the car price was cheaper. The service would probably be pre-paid too. So battery switching may be the only reasonable way to go unless batteries get a lot better and recharging time gets drastically reduced somehow.

  22. I guess this depends on the battery size. Driving for a mere 60 miles and then swapping the battery, as would be the case for the Fluence, does not seem practical for long trips. I think what it is good for is a trip that is 60 miles away, you can swap batteries and return home.

    On the other hand, the Model S can get you 200 miles away, a short break for supercharging and a meal, and then you continue your journey for a little more.

  23. The 85KWhr Tesla Model S is EPA rated at 265 miles so that is about 3.7 hrs of driving at 70 mph. Go only 55 mph and it will go about 300 miles or about 4.2 hrs of driving. I for one usually need a bathroom break after that many hours let alone an 1/2 hour lunch break sounds good to me too. In fact Car & Driver reviewer Csaba Csere said it's the only EV he would consider owning since it can be driven as a daily driver without the need to worry about range compared to all the other EV's that had to be brought to them on a flat bed truck to be review simply because they did not have enough range to be driven there with out the need to be recharged before the test.

  24. I was low-balling the range a little to reduce stress on the battery and range anxiety.

    But if 85kwh packs and supercharging become affordable, it is an interesting view of the future.

  25. 400 Superchargers covering the U.S. every 75 miles and all of Europe and Japan would cost as little as $100,000,000.

  26. You are assuming of course there will be 10 battery swapping centers every 75 miles along your 1,500 mile route. That's not very likely, since they costs millions each to build and locate.

    I believe most EVs will have at least 200 miles of range in the next five years and there will be thousands of rapid chargers. Still, people will most often take an ICE vehicle on long road trips. They are very cheap to rent and can hold a lot of luggage.

  27. The bigger picture here is that as long as we rely on a money system that is based entirely on the concept of scarcity (engineered or otherwise, but largely engineered at this point in time), alternative energies replacing fossil fuels aren't going to happen. This disease will continue to eat away at innovators like Better Place for the foreseeable future.

  28. Hats off to Better Place for its efforts -- they were pioneering innovators and did still build a very good product. Sony designed Betamax, a better product, but one that eventually lost out to VHS, because that's what the market decided. Here with EVs, when BP started the feasability of L3 fast charging was still questionable. Now it seems consumers prefer EVs with fixed batteries using public fast charging systems. Swapping out entire battery packs was far more involved and labor intensive, and consumers just may prefer to own and recharge rather than rent used battery packs, not having to deal with service stations and rental contracts. Hopefully BP will do something 'even better' once out of bankruptcy.

  29. Better Place was a business model doomed from the beginning. Who wants to be dependent on a battery swapping scheme? I much prefer having batteries that hold a long charge (150 miles +) accompanied by solar cells that can juice up my battery from home or built into the car's body.

  30. That is a pity. I guess that supercharging is the only alternative. It has been estimated that it would take $100,000,000 To cover the Interstate system at 75 miles between each supercharge station in this country as well as Europe and Japan. If you establish stations every 37 miles the cost would be $200,000,000. What are we waiting for? We have enough Billionaires in this country alone (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, etc) to finance it. I am sorry but depending upon eVgo, Blink, or Chargepoint ain't going to cut it.

  31. Tesla could make the argument for 150 miles apart or so for Its supercharger network. Tesla recently decided to only sell the 60KWhr and 85KWhr Model S from now on and the 40KWhr they received deposits on initially will have a minimum of 150 mile range and will be based on the 60KWhr battery pack. I wonder if any hackers out there could crack the battery pack code to gain an additional 70 miles range. I for one am interested in the more affordable Blue Star EV which is expected to be priced in the mid $30,000 range and released about 2016. I do not need a large relatively expensive sport sedan however if I should find a lightly used Model S that would be a nice find if the price is right.

  32. I wonder what it means for the other swapping related concepts still in infancy: like the metal air battery swap idea from Metalectrique - a metal air battery developer in UK! I recently interviewed Mr. Trevor Jackson on the concept, which he said was very promising because of the cost benefit - an air breathing battery is much less costlier to produce than conventional lithium ion. But BP's demise is definitely a setback for the whole swapping concept.

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