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Posts Tagged ‘Better Place’

‘Better Place’ Electric Car Goes Belly Up

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

The electric car company Better Place, which had pledged to erect electric car charging stations throughout Israel, filed for bankruptcy in an Israeli court on Sunday.

The company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., fired about half of its staff in October 2012.

Better Place provides charge spots and battery-switch stations for the Renault Fluence ZE, an electric car that went on sale last year in Israel. Fewer than 1,000 of the cars have been sold in Israel.

Better Place had raised more than $850 million in investments since its founding in 2007, but it lost $812 million in 2012 alone and would have needed at least another four years and investment of some $500 million to reach a breakeven point, Globes business daily reported.

“We stand by the original vision as formulated by Shai Agassi of creating a green alternative that would lessen our dependence on highly polluting transportation technologies,” the company’s management said in a statement issued Sunday. “The vision is still valid and important and we remain hopeful that eventually the vision will be realized for the benefit of a better world. However, Better Place will not be able to take part in the realization of this vision.”

Agassi, the Israeli-American founder of Better Place, was ousted by its board last year. Agassi then resigned from the company’s board of directors.

Israeli Input Drives New Chinese Car

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

A joint Israeli-Chinese car venture won rave views at the Geneva Auto Show this week with a new sedan aimed not only for the Chinese market but also for Europe, and eventually North America.

Israel’s input into the new Qoros compact, besides lots of money, is Western technology that has been not available in China. The Qoros features a unique combination of an electrically powered rear axle and a traction motor integrated into the front drive, along with a six-speed gearbox. The interior includes a unique eight-inch touch screen system

Israel Corp, Israel’s largest company, has eyes on the distant future when it will be able to employ its Better Place electric car battery technology for the Qoros.

“China will eventually go electric,” Israel Corp. executive Idan Ofer told Reuters. “There’s definitely synergy … We need to establish Qoros as a company. We cannot go pure electric from day one but once we are on safe ground, we can start combining forces.”

The deployment of Israeli input and a German designer for the Qoros has made it a truly international car. Qoros is an invented word. The Q is intended to represent quality, and the whole name is a play on the Greek chorus, a collective voice in plays and music, reflecting the multinational nature of the company.

“This combination of western technology, western management, coupled with … Chinese pedigree is actually a winning combination,” said Ofer, who also is Israel’s richest man.

Israel Corp.’s partner is the Chinese Chery Automobile company, which surrendered its original demands that foreigners would not control the company or inject cash.

The “Qoros 3” sedan sparked excitement at the Geneva show, with obvious admiration from Renault Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover executives.

Ratan Tata, former Tata Motors chairman and Jaguar Land Rover chief executive officer “spent half an hour here yesterday,” said Ofer. “He was quite amazed. He loved the car.”

The Qoros 3  has a four-cylinder engine with an expected price tag of approximately $25,000. Officials hope to reach an annual production of 150,000 cars a year, with the first vehicles on Chinese roads by the end of this year and in Europe before the end of 2015.

Jewish State from River to Sea a Better Place for Arabs

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

My wife forwarded to me this morning an email from our friend Jill from Oakland, Calif. Jill asked: “What do you and Yori think about a 2 state solution? I am very interested in your opinions.” All love, Jille.

Hi Ya, Jill!

The 2-state solution – which seems an obvious idea, what could be more logical than a case in which two people are disputing ownership of the same land – they should split it – has been proposed and tried several times:

In 1936, a British fact finding committee recommended it, and the publication resulted in an Arab rebellion that spread across the Middle east, flamed by Nazi support.

In 1947, the UN voted in favor of just such a plan, resulting in immediate hostilities, developing into the 1948-49 war in which local Arabs and invaders from 5 Arab states attempted to annihilate the Jews of Palestine.

In 1994, the Oslo Accords to split the land resulted in several years of the worst terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.

In 2000, the Camp David agreement negotiated by Clinton between then Israeli PM Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat resulted in the Second Intifada, once again, rivers of blood.

Remember what Albert Einstein said about the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Mind you, I’m not branding the Arabs in this conflict as the bad guys and the Jews as angels. Israel, for reasons of stupidity, greed, chauvinism – you name it – has missed as many opportunities as the Arabs have to resolve the problem in ways that would be beneficial to everyone living here. But what is the common theme in all the past abysmal failures to turn that very logical 2-state solution into anything other than a bloody mess?

It requires a straight forward, honest and sincere acceptance of a Jewish state in some recognized borders in the area somewhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. So far, every single Arab leader who actually supported this position openly and bravely — was found by an assassin’s knife or bullet or car bomb.

Mahmoud Abbas, the current President of the Palestinian Authority, has been cleverly playing a double game, avoiding an actual recognition of an Israeli state with full rights, but appearing as a man of peace and of law, while the other half of the Palestinian nation, the one in Gaza which is ruled by Hamas, is vowing to eliminate the “Zionist entity” by fire. One hand offers an illusive peace, the other promises – and delivers – death to the Jews.

I’ve lived for almost sixty years and learned at least one thing: There are no spontaneous, popular movements, demonstrations, or eruptions of violence. If those things happen, it means someone wanted them to happen and was willing to pay, be it the U.S., Europe, Iran, the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel.

The fact is no one actually wants a democratic, independent Palestinian state. Everybody wants and badly needs hordes of Palestinians vying for such a state but never getting one. When they’re in a dynamic state, they can be used – by everyone, including Israel. And each time a Palestinian leader tries to actually go seriously about having a state – he or she meet a bullet.

In my opinion, the best thing for the region would be a Jewish, Democratic state from the river to the sea, with equal rights for everybody. It exists as Israel right now, where some 20 percent of the citizens are non-Jews, mostly Muslim and Christian Arabs. They vote and get elected (11 Knesset seats are held by Arabs), many of them serve in the military, go to university and work as professionals. On Shabbat and Jewish holidays, the Israeli medical system is run almost exclusively by Arabs. Arab municipalities are thriving.

They all recognize that they’re living in a Jewish state. They all bitch about discrimination. They all have a zillion anecdotal stories about how tough it is to live as an Arab minority in a majority Jewish state. But very few of them would rather live in, say, Syria, or Iraq, or Iran, or even Egypt. You may not know this, but Palestinians are kind of the Jews of the Arab world – despised and discriminated against. You may recall that, back in 1991, after the American Desert Storm effort restored the Kuwaiti royal family, the first thing they did was to throw 400 thousand Palestinians out to the desert, punishing all of them for the few who had collaborated with the invading Iraqis.

Even Without Shai Agassi, Better Place Offers a Great Deal

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

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. The company’s press release about this is here.

I don’t know a lot yet about Evan Thornley, but I will find out more. He certainly pushed Better Place on quite a bit in Australia and, while Renault seems to be a slightly reluctant partner in Europe today, Evan has brought GM Holden on board in Australia and that may turn out to be brilliant.

Timing

If I have a complaint it is about the local timing of this announcement. Just last week Better Place and the local leasing company Albar announced an amazing deal they would be selling at a car show in Tel Aviv this week. They’re offering a 3-year lease for ₪9,990 down and ₪1,990 per month which includes driving 1000 km. Fuel alone for that distance is ₪900 or more. I have personally put two people in touch with Better Place who are close to taking this. I have 3 or 4 more very interested. I’ve had calls or messages from all who are asking if the company will be around to service the lease.

I can’t answer that question. Obviously I need them to continue operating or my car is useless. It’s my belief now, as it was when I bought my car, if Better Place were to fail completely, someone would pick up the local assets at a discount price and continue to run the service. Too much has been spent for it to be written off completely.

As I’ve written so glowingly I think Better Place are doing many things correctly: the product,the pricethe service are all excellent.

Local Advertising

I’m going to make one strategic criticism though. The marketing in Israel has been disappointing. When the New York Times writes “But despite vast publicity, the idea has gained little traction so far.” they’re confusing two different things. Being featured in the Startup Nation book and talked about in global business publications doesn’t affect the Israeli domestic market for cars (or that in Denmark I suspect). Sure it gets a few headlines but the Israeli press has been overwhelmingly skeptical from the start.

I could be very cynical and point out that as car advertising (by internal combustion engine car importers of course) is something like 50% of all media buy in Israel, perhaps the newspapers were just protecting their biggest customers.

But the reality is Better Place has not told a competent story to Israelis. They haven’t advertised in English, Russian or Arabic just for starters. And their advertising in Hebrew has not been enough. There is only one sales centre in Israel: Tel Aviv. There should be one in Jerusalem and Haifa at a minimum. I can’t link to an English version of the lease offer because their web page is in Hebrew only, here’s a brief article in Globes about it. And the terms of the lease are an image so Google won’t even translate it for you.

I know personally how huge this education gap is because of the questions I get asked every time I drive or park my car. Very few people have any idea about the car or actively believe lies and misinformation spread in the press here for 3 years now.

There has been no coherent promotion of just how nice the car is to drive. No promotion of how easy it is to switch or how the home charging works. Of course having only one model hurts them, but as it is  the most popular style of car in the country, not by much.

Shai Agassi and Investment

As to Shai, it is completely normal for a founder of something like this to move or be moved aside when a company transitions into more of an operational stance than a start up. I have met him but I wouldn’t say I know him and I’m not going to give some uninformed speculation about what led to this.

Better Place Replaces CEO Founder Shai Agassi

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

The board of Better Place, the Israeli/global electric car company, has removed its founder Shai Agassi as CEO of the global company, and replaced him with Evan Thornley, who was the CEO of Better Place Australia.

Agassi will continue on as a board member and shareholder.

Better Place has accumulated costs of $490 million dollars since it was founded.

Is It A Car? Is It A Network? No — It’s Both

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

It’s February in Israel and, mercifully, we’ve been having one of the wettest winters in many years. The level of the Sea of Galilee is now almost 3ft above where it was this time last year.

But stark headlines are screaming of summer electricity shortages. In June, pioneering electric car company Better Place will begin delivering to customers in Israel the battery-switch capable Renault Fluence ZE sedan – just a month into peak air conditioning season. How irresponsible is it to load the grid with electric cars when there is a recognized shortfall in generating capacity? There is a very clever reason these cars may actually help, and it relates to a controversial law that Israel has passed: charging an electric car from the regular electricity system is illegal. You may only use (at present) a Better Place charge point. Critics are screaming about state-appointed monopolies and rewards for crony lobbyists.

First some background on Israel’s electricity infrastructure: The so called ‘Arab spring’ has seen Israel’s supply of natural gas from Egypt interrupted by pipeline sabotage numerous times in the last year. Israel gets 61% of its electricity from imported coal, 37% from gas and the rest from fuel oil (source: Israel Electric Company). Israel has its own small gas field on stream now but the more major recent finds are not on stream yet.

Israel is a hot, desert country and summer is by far the peak time for energy use – with air-conditioning at a near-ubiquitous usage. The average daily summer temperature on the coast in Tel Aviv is above 87℉from March to November, while Eilat in the southern desert is much hotter.  A little-known mitigating factor is the almost universal use of simple radiated heat – solar water heaters in 90% of homes and businesses for hot water. These cheap, simple devices were made mandatory for new residential building in the early 1990s meaning there is very little hot water heating during the summer.

Whatever the internal causes, the news right now is full of predictions that Israel will have production reserves of only 2-3% in the summer. Energy minister, Uzi Landau has said “There is a great danger that the electricity grid will fail if there is any type of breakdown at the power station, especially during peak usage hours.” Plans are in place to ship in portable 25 megawatt generating equipment to help out.

For those who don’t know, Better Place is on the verge of going live in Israel with the first all electric cars to be offered to the public in Israel. These Better Place cars differ from other electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf because their depleted battery can be swapped for a full one in around 4 minutes. The Renault ZE is also larger than the Nissan or the Chevy: sized more like a Honda Accord a real, practical family car.

The cars are sold to consumers with a big sticker: “battery not included”. The battery, and most importantly, all the electricity you will ever put into your car, are bought from Better Place in the form of a monthly subscription. These subscriptions are dependent on the number of miles you plan to drive but start at a relatively high level of 12,000 miles per year. Better Place does not want low mileage drivers: Better Place’s business model makes it’s money per mile! By not forcing the consumer to buy the most expensive single part of the car, it’s battery, the sticker price of the car is competitive with similarly-equipped gasoline cars on the Israeli market. Right now, Better Place is fixing the subscription price for the next four years. The price is highly competitive when compared to the cost of gasoline in Israel — which is over double the price in the US.

So how does that square with a car that can only drive 100 miles on a full charge? Included in the purchase price is the complete installation of a home charging point with it’s own meter and separate connection to the power company – it does not appear on the home owner’s electricity bill. Commit to 16,000 miles per year and you can have one at your place of work too. So, for many users who drive less than 100 miles per day or 100 miles each way to a place of work, home charging will be their sole source of power. Better Place is also installing public charge spots in mall parking lots and other locations. Each owner has a smart card that identifies them and opens a public charge port for them.

The unique part of Better Place, however, is the network of battery switch stations they’re rolling out along every major route in Israel. Drive into one, it looks like an automatic car wash, sit in the car and 5 minutes later drive out with 100% charge. Your depleted battery is taken inside, cooled to 40℉ and rapidly charged ready for another car. Israel is a small country. East to west through Tel Aviv you can cross the country and return on a single charge. North to south would take two or three battery swaps. Around 60 stations are enough for the whole country.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/businessfinance/is-it-a-car-is-it-a-network-no-its-both/2012/02/23/

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