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Even Without Shai Agassi, Better Place Offers a Great Deal

Despite press attention, Better Place has not told a competent story to Israelis.
Better Place founder Shai Agassi.

Better Place founder Shai Agassi.
Photo Credit: David Terrar

I’m also not privy to the internal financial discussions or the status of the company. I do take slight umbrage when the press talk all about losses and don’t seem to make any allowance for investment. It’s completely normal for an infrastructure company such as this to spend a huge amount of money before getting any back! Just think what it costs to build an entire cell phone network before you make the first call! Are Vodafone or AT&T profitable? They invested huge sums in a network before they got any back.

The difference is that both those companies had other businesses that were ongoing and profitable while they invested for the future. Now they’re spending billions on 4G networks but they’re fortunate to have ongoing profitable business to cover the investment.

My Daily Driving Distance Distribution: How Many Days do I Drive a Given Distance? (km)

EVs Are The Future

There’s no doubt in my mind that within a few years or a decade the world will be transitioning to electrically driven cars. Whether the source of the electricity is a battery (my car), a battery and a petrol engine (Chevy Volt, Plug In Prius) or a hydrogen powered fuel cell (very unlikely in my opinion) the common element is an electric motor driving the wheels. Once you’ve driven a car set up this way you’ll understand why. This Huffington Post article is a pretty good summary (missing only one point – smart grids). John Voelcker’s article here in Green Car Reports is also excellent.

And no matter who’s proposing an alternative to battery switching, be it Tesla’s fast chargers or a Renault Zoe with fancy on board systems to accept very high electric current, nobody is close to the speed of refuelling I get at a switch station. Five minutes gives me 140km. The best anybody else will offer (Tesla with a $100,000 car) is 240km in 30 minutes. So Better Place’s rate is 28km/minute. Tesla’s is 8km/minute. And when batteries get bigger and the robots are pushed faster, Better Place’s refuel rate will go up and Tesla’s will stay largely the same.

Smart Grid

The point missed in the HuffPo article is what a managed system of electric car batteries can mean for a national electricity grid. This is part of what is called the “smart grid.” Better Place has the only significant managed network or smart grid of car batteries than can be used to store cheap or wasted overnight electricity. This is a huge issue and will be massively important as we move from burning fossils over which we have some control of the rate of burning, to renewable sources like wind and solar which blow or shine without any control from us.

This aspect of Better Place is much more strategic than most of the short sighted articles that are damning them as a failure today. It could even be one day this overnight storage of large amounts of renewable energy is so profitable that the company makes more from that and only breaks even on the driving aspects of the business.

Better Place’s Future

I’m not a completely disinterested observer and, when writing here at Israellycool, I’m not pretending to be a journalist. I’m an advocate for Better Place because I like the car, I like the system and I want it to succeed. Beyond that I have an obvious financial stake in the success or at least continued ongoing operation of the company.

There are also machinations in Europe and stories about why they opened a taxi trial in Amsterdam. I’m not an insider and don’t know the details. I don’t know much about the relationship with Renault and the prospect for other models, like the new smaller Zoe, to be brought to Israel or Denmark in battery switching form.

It may well be that Shai Agassi, having done a brilliant job in getting so much built and raise so much money to do it, is not the right guy to run the company today. I don’t know. The insiders I’ve spoken to, who have been there from the very start with Shai, are sad about the move, but optimistic about Evan. Only time will tell. I have heard from a number of sources that the company’s astonishingly high level of customer service flows directly from the wishes and will of Shai and for that he is a master.

About the Author: Brian of London regularly blogs at Israellycool.com about life in Israel, technology & business topics. He made aliyah from the UK to Israel in 2009, and owns and operates his own import company in Israel with more than 15 staff.


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On Monday, electric car company Better Place announced that Shai Agassi, up to now the face and driving force behind Better Place, was stepping back from his CEO rôle and would continue on as a member of the board and major shareholder. Evan Thornley, Better Place’s CEO in Australia, is stepping up to the global rôle. The news seemed to come out of the blue.

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