By on June 28, 2011

Though it doesn’t get the play it deserves in the auto media, Project Better Place is one of the most ambitious, potentially disruptive plays anywhere in the world of cars, uniquely positioning itself to eliminate the biggest shortcomings of electric vehicles. TTAC was on hand when the “end-to-end” EV services firm opened its first battery swap station in Israel, and now the firm has launched its first European swap station in Denmark. Better Place’s single model, the Renault Fluence Z.E won’t be widely available in either of the two initial launch markets until later this year, but having sold over 70,000 of its initial order of 100k units from Renault, Better Place is keeping its foot on the gas… er, juice.

Earlier this year, BP signed a deal with GM’s Australian division Holden and several suppliers, to develop large, rear-drive sedans based on the (Zeta Platform) Commodore. At the time, we noted

This project is highly significant on a number of levels. First, battery-swap-enabled large sedans operating in Australia could show the way forward for the US, by breaking stereotypes about EV size, capability and operating environments. Second, the project marks the first sign of flirtation between General Motors and Project Better Place’s battery-swap-based business.

And that initial challenge, proving that BP’s battery-swap infrastructure can provide “unlimited range” EV motoring at relatively low costs (thanks to its unique battery-leasing arrangement) outside of tiny, densely-populated markets like Israel and Denmark, is one that the firm is eager to conquer. And so BP is building on pilot testing in Canberra, Australia, by announcing that the first Fluence Z.Es will begin arriving Australia in the middle of next year. Cars will first arrive in Canberra, and Australia-wide sales will follow, and according to the firm’s press release

By 2013 Better Place will give Australia the largest electric car charge network in the world, which is expected to outpace current deployment plans in market-leading countries including the US and China.

If Better Place can build momentum and create a viable market for its EV scheme in Australia, there’s no reason it can’t do so in the US. Keep an eye on these guys…

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15 Comments on “Better Place Opens First European Battery Swap Station, Expands To Australia...”

  • avatar

    The flashing batteries in that video almost gave me a seizure.

    One of the benefits of gasoline is its reliable range performance. How will that be managed for aging battery packs? It will become pretty annoying (not to mention potentially litigious) when people’s range varies 50-80% by simply exchanging battery packs.

    • 0 avatar

      A vital part of the BP system is communication from the car to a central computer via cell phone. The driver enters a destination and the car compares current range to that req to reach the destination. If needed, the computer tells the car/driver where to stop on the way to pick up a charged battery pack, and since the owner leases rather than owns the battery pack, diminishing capacity over time is less important to the owner. This does raise a troubling issue, tho: BP knows an awful lot about where/when you’re traveling.

  • avatar

    I’d like to see how well this would work in a snowy US City. Salty slush dripping onto that mechanism below would do some damage. I suppose they could give the car a thorough undercarriage wash before the swap.

  • avatar

    They stole my idea.

  • avatar

    How would it work in urban sprawl? Would there be battery stations located in various neighborhoods much like gas stations are now?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, that’s the plan. The car also communicates via cell phone to a central computer that knows where is the nearest available battery pack when you need one, and directs you to it.

  • avatar

    Hmmm just had the latest from Holden and the Electric Commodore
    Down to page 24 it boasts “at least 160km range” approx 100 miles.
    Which is great if you sit in a four door sedan into the city and back just to go to work and the shops. I could use this technology but not in a large sedan just for me. Put it in a Barina or even a Cruze size vehicle makes sense, not in a large sedan. Personally I thinkl it’s a lever to remove more money from the government (taxpayer) to subsidise the local car manufacturer or GM would threaten to pack up their bat and ball and go home, ’cause it’s all to hard to compete against Toyota and Hyundai, and Ford to a lesser extent.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the link! The full story you reference can best be found here: Fleet Boost For Electro-Commodore.

    100 miles is about typical for what can be done affordably using current battery technology. Nissan’s Leaf gets 100 miles of range (give or take) and it’s a much smaller car. Better Place isn’t trying to improve the EV’s intrinsic performance… that task ultimately falls to battery developers. What BP does do is offer “unlimited” range within their charging network. Battery improvements are doubtless coming, but the challenge that remains is the long charging time, which can leave you stranded for hours at a time. BP’s network eliminates that wait, swapping your used-up battery for a fresh one in about the time it takes to fill up with gas. This is why I’m so bullish on BP: it doesn’t require a major improvement in battery chemistry to make EVs viable, and it eliminates a major problem (charge time) that is likely to persist even with new chemistries. It also insulates owners from battery degradation, another huge EV downside, by selling cars and only leasing batteries as part of a “mileage plan” like a cell phone’s “minute plan.”

    The downside is the upfront cost, which is significant and usually requires some kind of government assistance (also, there’s currently only one car available). In general I’m not a fan of businesses that require government support, but A) most governments subsidize EVs anyway, and BP’s infrastructure makes EVs viable and B) as an infrastructure play, I see BP’s concept as something of a “natural monopoly” like a telephone company or utility. And for the amount of money the US spends on ethanol subsidies each year ($6b+), BP could make much of our interstate system useable by electric cars (they say Seattle-San Diego would cost about $1b)… imagine driving coast-to-coast with an EV! How’s that for range?

    • 0 avatar

      amen, dude.

      The problem I see, is people will have trouble wrapping their brains around it. They’re too married to how they live their lives now. Too much is sacred to them.

    • 0 avatar

      “The downside is the upfront cost…”

      That is most by far reasonable counter-argument against widespread EV adoption, a problem that is compounded, not mitigated, with battery technology improvements.

      For example, the Sumitomo article posted shortly after this one. Say a battery manufacturer makes a commercially viable battery in the next five to ten years, that extends range from 100 to 300 miles. What is BP’s raison d’etre, if most folks can commute an entire week on one charge?

      Sure people will still forget to charge (a reality when you think of the occasional poor soul pouring a 5 gallon into their stranded car on the side of the freeway) but this can be mitigated in the existing ‘liquid’ infrastructure already present (aka the tow-truck.)

      Apart from cross-country road-trips, if battery/EV technology can carry folks >200 miles on a charge, where is the benefit to municipalities and private entities pouring that much capital in battery swap facilities?

      • 0 avatar

        Given the time that it takes for new tech to come to market at an affordable price, it may well be a decade or more before sufficiently advanced batteries are available for a week’s worth of driving on a single charge. Even at that, overnight charging of batteries is likely to req 220V chargers at home, and that’s only an option for those who have a private garage. You’re SOL if you park on the street or in a shared garage. And even 200+ miles on a charge may not be enough for a Thanksgiving visit to Grandma’s house. The leased battery swap concept allows for evolving tech to be utilized more quickly than fixed battery packs sold with the vehicle, and removes the concern of degradation over time for the buyer.

      • 0 avatar

        If electric cars are a success than a shared garage will have a recharger for your car

    • 0 avatar

      I still think it will be a pain to receive packs with varying ranges, regardless of how ‘free’ they are. Drivers won’t be able to reliably plan a long trip if it requires 10 refuelings vs. 5, for example.

  • avatar

    It’s a great idea, sure beats hauling a diesel generator on a trailer :)
    I still think the biggest advantage of EV’s would be for cleaner city traffic, and in places where electricity is clean in itself.

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