By on December 21, 2009

Ask and ye shall receive... (courtesy:Life)

While we at TTAC continue to cover the serious, the silly and the sublime from the world of cars in this holiday season, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. We have a grip of new blog and editorial series in development right now, the first of which we’re debuting today: The Project Better Place Birthwatch. This series will be a collaboration between a new contributor here, Tal Bronfer, who will be monitoring and reporting on Better Place’s Israeli rollout, and Martin Schwoerer who will be covering Denmark’s collaboration with the EV dream company. True to TTAC’s mission, we’ve asked Messrs Bronfer and Schwoerer to dig deep into Better Place’s heady swirl of public funding, private companies, and new technology to critically explore the reality of Better Place’s reimagination of the automotive relationship. Because coverage of all things EV tends to be enthusiast- or hobbyist-oriented (read: strictly for the fanboys), the idea for this series is to look beyond Better Place’s green-tinted pitch and learn more about the true viability, costs, benefits and complications of the nascent EV infrastructure business. To ensure that we don’t miss any of the important questions, please take a moment to read Tal’s introduction to the fundamentals of Project Better Place, and let us know what questions you would like answered and what elements you would like to see explored as we take on this sprawling story.

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18 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Questions For Project Better Place?...”

  • avatar

    More BP info from TTAC:

  • avatar

    My biggest question is how the usage pricing will work. My understanding is that a cell phone model is envisioned, where the customer contracts for a given number of miles/month, with the price per mile dropping as the customer contracts for higher miles/month. But will these contracts have the kind of cell phone gotchas that have made us all hate cell phone companies? If I exceed my contract one month will I get hammered with a high fee for the overage? If I drive fewer miles/month than my contract, will I get some sort of credit, or just lose those miles the same way that I lose the minutes?

    Also, are they still proposing that EV buyers just lease the batteries, not own them? This seems necessary for the battery swapping, but it puts a huge capital requirement on someone else (Better Place?).

  • avatar

    In addition to everything ClutchCarGo has suggested, I want to know what the cost per mile really will be. When Tom Friedman of the NYT wrote about this, he echoed a cost that was far lower than justified (can’t remember the details), and if the hype gets by him, it’s going to get by most of the media.

  • avatar
    George B

    How does Project Better Place handle the decrease in battery capacity with charge-discharge cycles and renter vs. owner issues?  If I Project Better Place swaps a new discharged battery with a charged but very used one near the end of it’s life, my car performance and range would go down.  I’m going to be extremely pissed if an older battery leaves them stranded due to unexpected shorter range.  If I own the battery, I have an incentive to avoid deep discharge and rapid charging cycles which will reduce it’s life.  On the other hand, if the battery is a rental, I have no incentive to baby it.

  • avatar

    Sorry for the repost from the intro story, but here are some of my questions/comments:
    One of the problems with battery swapping is the question of quality.  What motivation does the supplier have to provide a battery pack that has a minimum level of storage capacity?  As batteries age, their capacity drops.  Different vehicles will utilize a ’standard’ battery differently, as will different drivers.  What recourse will a buyer have when they claim their new battery only lasted 80 miles instead of 120?  Who’s to say they’re right or wrong?

    At least now we have standardized periodic inspections for octane and quantity.  A similar system would need to be developed for batteries.

    Moreover, theft and blackmarket activities could become an issue for batteries that are ‘prematurely’ removed from the market, but end up in people’s garages instead.

    What’s to prevent vandals from pulling the plug on every EV that’s charging, or worse yet, simply driving an axe through everyone’s charging cord?  Or robbing customers who are trapped on the swapping fixture and can’t drive off?

    Will there be a breakaway provision for the cord in case someone forgets to unplug?

    And most people won’t be  interested in handling a power cord in a driving rainstorm or sub-zero temperatures, or when they’re in a hurry.

    • 0 avatar

      You don’t rent a battery but buy x amount of kwh. Age can be a problem with storing brake energy but that could be solved by making the battery be  a container consisting of new and old battery elements and using the best parts for brake energy storages (but an ultra capacitor would solve that better and is IMHO the future)
      There is also the issue of how efficient the battery is reharged when you plug it in , but that is not something the consumer has to worry about.  You pay the 100kwh you get out of the battery, not the 120 or 125 kwh it takes to charge the battery. For instance if you recharge at home your electricity bill will show that BeP (if i see BP i read British Petroleum) paid the 120 kwh to recharge the battery, but you have to pay 100 kwh of battery power to BeP (which obvoiusly would cost more)
      Batteries are big and heavy. Not something you can steal easy.  Other problem is that an electric car doesn’t move without a battery so disposing of stolen cars is difficult.
      Stealing electric car batteries is akin to stealing car engines. Do-able, “profitable” but not easy.
      It is quite easy to monitor when a plug is unplugged. Damage needs to be monitored for safety issues anyway. Simply adding a security cam largely solves the problem.

  • avatar

    >>>What’s to prevent vandals from pulling the plug on every EV that’s charging, or worse yet, simply driving an axe through everyone’s charging cord?  Or robbing customers who are trapped on the swapping fixture and can’t drive off?
    What’s to prevent vandals from shoving potatoes up everyones’ exhaust pipe, puncturing tires, or smashing windows? What’s to prevent them from robbing customers who are gassing up their conventional cars, which may not be much different in the time required? (Someone once tried to pick my pocket in a somewhat questionable section of DC while I was filling the tank.)
    The battery quality issue is an interesting question. My guess is that BP would have minimum standards and that if one got a battery that seemed to be running out too quickly, one could complain and get it replaced, or simply just go to a swap station. This seems more of a question of relative inconvenience and annoyance, since for a lot of people, at least in the US, BP is bound to be somewaht inconvenient compared to ICE. This is inconvenience people in Israel and Denmark will presumably put up with in return for a far lower cost of ownership (both countries have huge taxes on conventional cars).

    • 0 avatar

      It is not only taxes. Both countries are small islands (obviously not literal but socially it is true) so you simply can’t drive very far.

    • 0 avatar

      In terms of vandalism, I was speaking of the acute vulnerability of having vehicles plugged in for many hours, which is much different from gassing up for a few minutes.  A dangling cord is easy and tempting to kill, and it definitely could leave a car disabled.

    • 0 avatar

      I leave my car sitting in my driveway for weeks at a time and no one has come by to slash the tires yet.

  • avatar

    Here are my two questions.
    First: is the new Nissan Leaf using the same battery form factor as Better Place, even though the battery isn’t being advertised as a quick-swap deal (since the swapping infrastructure won’t be in place in the regions its being sold)? If not, why not?
    Second: is the form factor for the batteries published and available at a nominal fee or free so that other manufacturers can develop matching form factor batteries, so that people who buy the cars aren’t locked into getting the lease from Better Place? If not, why not?

  • avatar

    Unless and until battery tech is made versatile on the order of ICE, BP (or BeP) will stand for Better Purgatory. I had a nightmare after I wrote my BP story for TTAC that the world had turned into BP and I was driving some pod that had the slows and the lows (as in range).

    Yet I still want them to proliferate. As long as I can keep my ICE Honda.

  • avatar

    I’d like to know about their strategy with fleet sales.  I can not see the biz model working for individuals or private vehicles, but I could see it working with delivery vans, taxis, etc.

    Also:  Unless they can drive standardization of the battery form factor & electrical connections, they must sell both a vehicle and a service.  This seems like a losing proposition… and the few independant EV’s that are out don’t support better place.


  • avatar
    Andy D

    All  the details aside,  for  EVs to ever be practical, an  infra-structure is  necessary. How  far  could  you  drive a  regular car without gas stations?

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    My ICE total cost per mile is 24.2 cents…gas (@ this morning’s $2.549 local per gallon), oil, capital cost and repairs, insurance and registration.

    This is @ 30k miles per year, so admittedly, my fixed costs (capital, insurance, registration) per mile is much lower than most drivers.

    In order for this to be a value proposition to me, this is the benchmark they need to hit…to make this a value added proposition to me. 

    Of course, as we know, variable costs (i.e., gas and oil) have a way of, well, varying….so each dime per gallon price increase adds 4/10 of a penny to my cost.  So, gas at $4 gallon would push my per-mile to 31.0 cents….

    Why, yes, I AM a cost accountant.  Why do you ask?

    • 0 avatar

      Shai’s recent TED talk pegs the cost at around $.08 per mile falling to $.04 per mile in 10-20 years.
      That doesn’t factor in the fixed costs you mentioned.
      He also talks about refueling frequency.  He states that there is a payback provision if you need to exchange your battery more frequently than 50 times per year.  This encourages the company to provide batteries that meet certain performance requirements.
      Check out his talk here:

  • avatar

    Numbers rule!

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Also, for any improvement to catch on, it has to better than what it is superseding. EVs in general have not yet achieved this.

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