By on December 20, 2008

Apart from keeping an eye on the imploding world economy, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, a Russia that is flexing its muscles, and other minor annoyances, “the incoming Obama administration is closely monitoring the innovative electric car project being developed by Israel’s Better Place company,” writes the Jerusalem Post. Idan Ofer, chairman of Better Place, says [hopes?] that Obama “may be adopting it.” Also according to Ofer “a leading US car manufacturer” is “putting together a team” to work on the project. Now who might that be? “Renault-Nissan agreed 18 months ago to build the first cars, and will be mass-producing hundreds of thousands of the electric-powered vehicles by 2010,” Ofer said to the paper. So why the need for a leading US car manufacturer? For all we know, the US car manufacturers are leading straight into C11.

Ofer doesn’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem. When “you hear announcements” from the incoming administration about reviving Detroit with electric cars, job creation in battery factories and modernizing the national electricity grid, the Better Place chairman reckons “you’ll know that it will have come from us.”

Surprisingly, the Renault-Nissan vehicles will cost about the same as conventional cars for now. Ultimately, though, allegedly, it will be cheaper. Ofer also claims they have comparable acceleration, can reach comparable speeds (of 150 to 180 kph) and can run 150-200 kilometers on a single battery. In short: Miracles on wheels.

Better Place was established 14 months ago by entrepreneur Shai Agassi. Despite the confidence, the company seems to suffer from a little bit of an identity crisis. According to Wikipedia, “Better Place is a California-based, venture-backed company that aims to reduce global dependency on petroleum through the creation of a market-based transportation infrastructure that supports electric vehicles, providing consumers with a cheaper, cleaner, sustainable, personal transportation alternative. Better Place will build its first Electric Recharge Grids in Denmark, Israel and Australia where the electricity will be generated by renewable energy.”  According to their website, “Better Place is working to build an electric car network.”

So what are they? A car builder that will be adopted by Obama the minute he enters office? Or a builder of recharge stations?

The San Jose Business Journal is convinced that Better Place is in the grid business: “San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and Reed announced last month to transform the Bay Area into the “Electronic Vehicle Capital of the United States.” Palo Alto-based startup Better Place, which is building electric vehicle networks powered by renewable energy, is leading the effort.”

A case of mistaken identity? Two Better places maybe, one in CA, one in Israel? Not so: both Better Places were founded by Shai Agassi. The EV business sure is wild and wooly.

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13 Comments on “Obama Will Adopt 14 Month Old Child From Israel...”

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Maybe it’s a Hawaii thing – Better Place is working on electrifying the island state where battery range will be much less of an issue and plans to put in loads of high-voltage power points. Portugal is another country signed up with BP. Ford is talking about introducing an EV or two in a couple of years, perhaps the Transit Connect.

    The cars may be priced competitively but IIRC the batteries will be leased. Wired had a puff piece a few months back.

  • avatar

    The author wonders what Better Place really is. The answer: Better Place is basically a businessmodel. It offers a way for participants to keep their hands in de pockets of the motorists in case of a transition towards electric motoring, when traditional income flows from after market part sales, maintenance/repairs and sales of car fuels largely disappear.

    What they do is they exploit the weaknesses of current battery technology: high price, low energy density, long recharge times to offer their services as an intermediary. Their trick is not to sell you the battery for your car (“too expensive, too complex, don’t worry your pretty head about it”); they will rent it too you along with a subscription to their network of recharge points and battery exchange stations. You will pay your monthly subscription fee and a charge per mile. Kinda like your GSM subscription. The GSM businessmodel is in fact their role model. Just like for your cell phone you end up paying for services which real monetary value is obfuscated.

    Another way of looking at it: they want to step in the void the oil companies leave in case of a transition to electric motoring: suppliers of energy. Except there won’t be any competition. Just Better Place setting the price.

    The problem of course(apart from the huge chance of monopolistic behaviour) is that new battery technology that allows for cheap, fast recharging, high energy density batteries will make the Better Place recharging network and financial scheme obsolete. Another problem is that affordable PHEV’s could significantly reduce demand for oil at a much lower costs until BEV’s become affordable and practical.

    But since they operate well connected to the governments of countries they infest I reckon there is no getting rid of them once they set up shop in your country, since they’ll probably cut the governments in on their action. This is attractive for governments that used to impose heavy taxes on car fuels: it solves the problem of taxing electric motoring.

  • avatar

    I am honestly surprised to see a company and CEO that makes Tesla and Musk look like level-headed realists. I didn’t think it was possible. Though the similarities are striking: both made it big in software and now think they know something about the auto business.

    As for the Hawaii grid project “investors have yet to be lined up for the all-island project” according to Reuters.

    And I bet Obama would be surprised to learn he’s already adopted a electric car infrastructure.

  • avatar

    > new battery technology that allows for cheap,
    > fast recharging, high energy density batteries

    Yeah, keep dreaming. I am not holding my breath.

    I think their business model is outstanding. It is the only way to make electric cars approach practicality of ICE. Assuming they can automate the battery swapping process…

  • avatar

    I wonder, with only a bit of sarcasm, how well he knows Bernie Madoff.

    Sadly, if this yutz is successful, it’ll be a scenario much like DutchChris elaborated.

    @vvk, I’m not holding my breath either. Perhaps for slightly different reasons, but I’m with you on that point.

    And when a better battery IS built – it just may be coming to you from Saudi Arabia. They know how much oil they have. They know the future is solar/electric/some wind. They aren’t just sitting on their hands waiting for someone to cut their market. They’re investing.

  • avatar

    “The EV business sure is wild and wooly.”

    Yes, life is hard. But a Better Place awaits.

  • avatar

    This thing only works on a few predicated conditions of the potential market:

    Sophisticated mercantile economy with high trust-per-capita amongst the citizenry; where all of Better Place’s batteries won’t disappear into the black market every time some one drives off with one.

    Excellent power-grid and dynamos feeding it. You can’t wander too far from your fuel infrastructure on such a short leash, power availability has to be plentiful and standardized everywhere the vehicles might operate.

    Highly urbanized, tiny undemanding geography to operate in. Ever watch a Prius’s mileage over a real mountain pass? The batteries crap out five minutes into the hill and its 1.4 liters of Atkinson apathy the rest of the way, excursion-esque mileage. A pure electric car would just get thumped going over Teton pass for instance. Better be a Better Place on either side of every mountain pass. Forget driving through Nevada to Vegas from the Rocky Mountain states during winter. You’ll be the latest trekker in a long line to die in the Great Basin.

    Those “needs” for Better Place to work pretty much eliminate the BRIC countries being compatible with that. Countries like that are too big and bad geographically to make something like that work. Maybe urban corridors like Boston through D.C. or San Angeles on the left coast. But that’s it.

    Oh, and hope no one figures out a better battery, or else all that moolah in now-inferior batteries laying around will force your hand and you’ll need to get on the Dubya TARP hotline. I don’t see it working.

    Battery tech remains forever primitive.

  • avatar

    From WIRED: It’s true. Shai Agassi has only one car, no charging stations, and not a single customer—yet everyone who meets him already believes he can see the future.

    Big deal. Back in 68, I could see the future in bright colors. And I didn’t even have a car.

    No wonder Hawaii, land of the dakine, gets high on the idea. The road to Hana will be a great test track.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Bertel: “surprisingly, the Renault-Nissan vehicles will cost about the same as conventional cars…”

    Not so. Nissan has said total cost of ownership “will be about the same as a conventional car”. The EV’s will be substantially more expensive to purchase, but the fuel (electricity) cost will be substantially less, depending on local electric rates. That also explains the basis of the business plan: to overcome the higher upfront costs of the EV’s, BP will simply offer “the plan”, essentially a lease including operating costs.

  • avatar

    First the Pentium M processor now this. What will those crazy Israelites think of next?

  • avatar

    @Niedermeyer: In one post, you blew them out of the water twice:

    A lease? Soon, we won’t have the credit rating to get a new Verizon cell phone, let alone a car.

    BP? There is a BP who’s in the petrol business and who fancies a lot of green paint. I bet they are already talking to their trademark lawyers. And the lawyers advise them: “Wait until they have some grids in place. THEN we go after them.”

    GSM model? Like you’ll bleed through your nose when you veer outside of your home area? Roaming?

    Quite obviously, they didn’t read all those “If Microsoft built cars” jokes. Or, more frighteningly, they did and said: “Now there’s an idea.”

  • avatar

    The problem with the battery exchange plan is that it requires vast amounts of money be spent on battery exchange stations when the technology for recharging electric vehicles while going down the road is already available, yet not commercialized. Any infrastructure investment should be adaptable to advances in technology or it will soon be obsolete. Battery exchange stations don’t fit the criteria of adaptability to innovations in charge methods, or advances in battery technology. For example, here’s a contactless inductive charging solution that is already patented and ready for development commercially.
    With charge strips embedded in the road every quarter mile or so, and at stop lights, and in parking lots, or your garage floor this method of contactless inductive energy transfer can be integrated with the smart grid and electric vehicles with existing battery technology and give electric vehicles unlimited range without the need to plug in or exchange your battery at all.
    Many other companies offer recharging capability for electric vehicles, you can find many other examples here

    It’s too early in electric vehicle development to fixate on any one solution at the present time, unless it is a solution which is adaptable to further innovations, battery swap stations will involve a huge cost to create, and don’t fit the criteria of adaptability to future innovation.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Link to my explanation of why BEVs will never be competitive.

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