By on April 28, 2010

Shai Agassi’s Better Place possibly clinched a possibly better deal than having three taxis running around in Tokyo. Possibly.

According to the Financial Times, Better Place signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Chery “to develop prototypes for electric vehicles to be used in regional sate-sponsored pilot projects.” This could give Better Place access to what the FT calls “potentially the biggest future market for battery-powered cars.”

The system remains the same: switchable batteries that will be swapped at charging stations faster than you can swap-in the extra battery of your camera. If you can find it. Israel and Denmark are running tests. But these are tiny countries, and this is China.

In this market, wide acceptance of a system, any system, is everything. Remember Blue Ray against HD DVD, or, if you are my age, Betamax against VHS. You don’t want to end up as a Betamax.

So far, Better Place has two car companies signed up, Renault and Chery. The latter is kind of signed up, MOUs are a dime a dozen, it’s the real deal that counts. According to the FT, Shai Agassi, is “in heavy talks with some of the global carmakers about our model.” He better get going.

For battery powered vehicles, there is no Better Place than China. The government is pushing heavily. Chinese are at the forefront of battery and EV development. China’s Science and Technology minister Wan Gang is a former Audi engineer and an electric car expert.

As far as infrastructure projects go that take forever in other countries, China is paradise: If they want an infrastructure, the Chinese will have one. Literally over night. To wit: Even before the  M.O.U. was signed,  Chery put a Better Place ready Riich G-5 sedan on display at the Beijing Auto Show.

However, Chery is a private auto maker. State-owned joint ventures, such as the one between SAIC and GM, push their own infrastructure projects, together with their governmental owners. Many cities, such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan, have their own charging station projects. By the end of the year, 75 electric vehicle charging stations are planned in 27 cities across China, says China’s State Grid Corporation, according to China Daily. Now guess who will get the thumbs up, in say, Shanghai? Better Place from Palo Alto and Chery from Wuhu? Or China’s State Grid Corporation and the likes of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation? Guess.

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3 Comments on “China’s Chery Picks Better Place. Possibly...”

  • avatar

    Since Shanghai is all “Better City, Better Life” for the Expo, I wouldn’t count out Better Place. Think of all the obnoxious topiary that could be reused!

  • avatar


    Thankfully it’s Chery. I am kinda heartened that was the firm ‘Better Place’ chose to do a MOU with. They did Bricklin the way he deserved.

    Beyond the fact that the ‘Better Place’ system just isn’t tenable in the least, Agassi isn’t exactly universally loved (or admired or respected) on Sand Hill Road.

    Between listening to interviews, looking at the proposal, and hearing the buzz from some SF folks, I smell Tucker/Bricklin/DeLorean redux.

    I’ll pass on the (admittedly Enron slick) pitch.

  • avatar

    Better Place has been hit with the curse of too much money. Many people think that the curse of too little money is worse. It’s not.

    Paradoxically, more startup companies fail because they have too much money than because they have too little. At least, that’s the lesson I’ve taken from a career in Silicon Valley.

    Look for Better Place to fizzle out and die before ever getting started.

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