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]

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]

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.

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]

Fuel in Israel today is $7.50 per gallon, and it hit $8.00 just after I ordered my car. Taking consumption figures from the fuel.ly website and assuming no increase (or decrease) in gas price over four years, that gives total fuel costs of $7,700 and $14,900 respectively (₪30,000 and ₪58,000) for the Prius and the Malibu (with base 2.4-liter engine).

Certainly cheaper new cars are available (Hyundais have grown in popularity lately) these two are comparable in size and at least the Chevy has some chance of offering acceleration as "peppy" as the Fluence ZE.

The cloud on the horizon, however, is a collapse in used-car values in Israel. Just opposite the Better Place visitor and sales center is an enormous parking lot filled with unsold off-lease company cars.

Three-year-old French sedans with 40,000 miles (65,000km) can be had for $14,000 (₪55,000) after haggling. These represent the best value motoring in Israel today. I gave up trying to sell my Honda and gave it to one of my employees in lieu of the Toyota Corolla my company had been leasing.

View of unsold off-lease cars from Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

View of unsold off-lease cars from Better Place visitor center [photo: Brian of London]

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. Also, the entire market is controlled by six family run importers who also own most of the lease companies.

The Israeli market is a tough place, and prices have long been kept unduly high for many reasons.

In this context, the Better Place model saves me money compared to the alternatives.

Brian Thomas ("Brian of London") emigrated from the U.K. to Israel in 2009. He now drives a Renault Fluence ZE sold through Better Place--joining David Rose and other early Better Place customers. He owns and operates his own import company in Israel with more than 15 staff. Thomas regularly blogs at Israellycool about life in Israel, technology and business topics.

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