Better Place is shutting the doors of its Australian and American operations, and will concentrate on its Danish and Israeli divisions. The New York Times reported the news just days after Evan Thornley, head of Better Place Australia, left his post as CEO after just three months on the job.
Shai Agassi thought Better Place was the secret sauce to spice up electric vehicle sales: Swappable batteries as a service, the answer to high battery prices (hidden in a pay-as-you-go model,) range anxiety and long charge times. Instead, Better Place emerges as a novel way to destroy money. Better Place posted third-quarter loss of $71.2 million, greater than $65.8 million a year earlier. The total loss for the January to September period stands at $203 million, Reuters says. Better Place accumulated losses of $561.5 million.
A brief piece in the Wall Street Journal’s “Dealbook” discussed the potential of natural gas powered vehicles, largely as a way to stop falling prices for natural gas.
One hope for many natural gas producers reeling from collapsing prices is wider adoption of natural-gas-powered cars.
The biggest hurdle so far: lack of infrastructure to refuel them.
But Steven Mueller, CEO of Southwestern Energy, says if 10% of passenger cars were powered by natural gas, gasoline prices would fall by $1.60/gallon and gas producers would get 4 billion cubic feet/day in demand.
China has big plans for the electrification of its cars. After spending a whole day at Beijing’s airport a week ago, waiting for the smog (not the “fog” as it was officially called) to clear, all I can say: “Get on with it.” (Unless the electrification results in more smoke-belching coal-fired powerplants.) Better Place, the company that wants to swap the battery in your EV in the same time it would take to pour gas in your car, always wanted to have a piece of the Chinese action. Now, at least there is a first step into China. Today, China’s Southern Power Grid (CSG) and Better Place opened their “Switchable Electric Car Experience Center” in China’s southern city of Guangzhou.
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.
Things have been a little quiet around Better Place and their battery switching solution. Everybody is waiting for their Denmark and Israel projects to finally take off. The promised land of EVs of course is China: A huge population, a large untapped car market, and a government that gets nervous when thinking about long and perilous supply lines of foreign oil. The Chinese government demands EVs from its automakers, and just about each had a prototype or more at the Shanghai Auto Show that had a plug and a cord. Just don’t ask when you can buy one.
When Better Place launched their Visitor Center in Tel Aviv, the attending journalists’ fingers couldn’t keep up with all the numbers and the promises flogged by the company chiefs: tens of battery switch stations to be built, hundreds of charging stations to be deployed and a thousand cars to be sold to Israeli customers each month.
Just over a year has passed since these statements made air, and in typical Israeli fashion – most of the goals were not met. Despite promising to begin delivery of cars in the beginning of 2011, Better Place has not sold a single car over the four months that passed since New Year’s Eve. And the number of battery switch stations built in Israel was – you guessed it – exactly zero. Until now.