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Cars better-place-battery-swap-bankrupt

Published on May 27th, 2013 | by Giles Parkinson

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No Better Place — Battery Swapping Company Going Bankrupt

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May 27th, 2013 by
 

This article originally appeared on RenewEconomy.

Better Place, the electric car network operator that aspired to transform the world’s car industry within a decade, is about to file for liquidation – an apparent victim of wanting to do too much, too soon, or just not doing it very well.

Report of the decision to liquidate the pioneer of battery swap electric vehicles circulated over the weekend and were confirmed late Sunday, Australian time, by the board of directors of its major shareholder, Israel Corp.

“Since we could not find the right investors to partake in a significant proportion of the additional investment, Better Place will submit an application to the court regarding its liquidation,” the company said in a statement.

The decision comes just months after Better Place abandoned plans to open a network in Australia (following an earlier decision to abandon the US), and to focus on small networks in Israel and Denmark. The Australian operations were folded earlier this year, following a dramatic period in which company founder Shai Agassi quit as CEO and his replacement, the Australian CEO Evan Thornley, lasted only a few months.

Investors and insiders suggest the call to liquidate was inevitable once the decision had been made to focus on two small markets. Reports suggested that the company was $560 million in debt, a situation that was unlikely to be recovered by operating in such small markets. A recent fundraising also failed.

Agassi had once predicted that the world would see a billion electric vehicles by 2020, but by the time it folded it had succeeded in having only attracted 1,300 EVs to its own networks.

“If we’re right we’ll get there fast, and if we [are] wrong we’ll have to wait a year and then get there fast,” Agassi said at the time. “It doesn’t really matter, it is an inevitable conclusion. It is a curve and if you [are] sliding down that curve, you will get to that point.”

Agassi was dismissive of the push into hybrid vehicles, saying it was like investing in a fax machine at the onset of computers. For the moment, at least, it looks like the fax machine has won.

The idea of a battery swap network and the philosophy behind it was seductive, and attracted some of the biggest and most progressive companies in the world to invest total of $850 million. They stand to lose the lot. They include GE, UBS, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Lazard Asset Management, Morgan Stanley, and Agassi himself.

In Australia, where the company once aspired to raise $1 billion to create its network but only raised $25 million before its withdrawal, investors included Lend Lease, Actew AGL, the RACV. The company also tapped high net worth individuals.

better-place-battery-swap-bankruptSupporters argue that the model could have worked, but for poor execution. The battery swap technology (pictured right), which was proved to change a battery in a car in less than one minute, was designed for convenience and to address anxiety about range performance – and to focus on large   and often-used vehicles.

But the company baulked at opportunities in the two countries that could have demonstrated its natural advantage over conventional EVs and the attraction of long-distance electric vehicle driving, Australia and the US.

The idea was to sell a vehicle at relatively low price, and strike a leasing arrangements over batteries that would deliver cheaper (and cleaner) driving over the life of the vehicle.

Back in 2009, just two years after the company was founded, Agassi told this reporter that the oil price was headed to $200/barrel. In the end, the oil price hasn’t much moved, and while the cost of batteries has fallen, it hasn’t provided the galvanizing impact that a rising oil price could have done. Ford Australia, for instance, signaled its demise a little over a week ago. It was still hopeful of producing large petrol guzzling cars right till the end.

Ironically, Better Place made a battery swap demonstration model of the Ford Territory, but Ford Australia did not take up the offer. Better Place encouraged a group of investors to form EV Engineering to build 7 demonstration models of an EV Commodore, in the hope that Holden would take up the offer. (Renault was the only car company to commit to a battery swap model with its Renault Fluence).

The experience with the Commodore proved that such vehicles could be built – on the same production line – and deliver excellent performance. All they needed was a network.

Now that they don’t have a network, the future of the EV Commodore will be in a different form. EV Engineering has now entered into a joint venture with AxiFlux, which has developed a prototype electric motor, and wants to use those vehicles to demonstrate its new product.

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About the Author

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.



  • http://www.parthiansystems.co.uk/ Stuart McMartin

    Mechanical Flywheel KERS may be coming into play to make a Hybrid but without the heavy and arguably toxic batteries. Volvo and others making progress using Torotrak technology. Not zero emissions of course but 25% fuel saving at modest cost AND improved performance – which will help sell the technology. http://www.torotrak.com/

    • Bob_Wallace

      Saving fuel is good.

      Posting FUD such as “arguably toxic batteries” is not.

      Don’t do that. Makes me leery of your product. I wonder in what other ways you might be dishonest.

      • http://www.parthiansystems.co.uk/ Stuart McMartin

        Hi Bob,

        A quick search for “environmental impact of electric car batteries” will find plenty of resources on the subject. My understanding is they often use lots of heavy metals and other chemicals which have a significant environmental impact. Plus of course if the electricity used to charge them up comes from a coal power station then… first resource I found. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19830232
        Then of course there is the problem of recycling them. Which is where the toxic bit comes in – as in in toxic waste. Perhaps newer battery technologies are better in this regard?

        The world needs solutions that actually work (that people will buy). Torotrak are not my product just something I know about.

        • Bob_Wallace

          There are many products in our lives which contain hazardous materials. The important issue whether they are staying safely in those products or getting out and harming us.

          Our use of coal is declining. A few years back coal produced more than 50% of our electricity and in 2012 it was down to about 35%. Coal will continue to fall as we have over 100 coal plants scheduled to close and have pretty much quit building new coal plants.

          EVs will likely charge mainly with wind-generated electricity. Onshore wind in the US blows a lot at night when grid demand is down and EVs will be parked and plugged in. Wind farms need a nighttime market for their product and EVs are perfect.

          Recycling is already done with rechargeable batteries. Toyota, perhaps other EV manufacturers, has set up recycling facilities for vehicle batteries.

          Before recycling, used EV batteries will probably spend several years doing work on the grid. When pulled from EVs it will be because ranges have dropped below 80% of original. There will still be a lot of usable life left in those batteries for applications where weight is not a critical issue.

          • http://www.parthiansystems.co.uk/ Stuart McMartin

            Agree with all of that Bob, I think EVs are the future. And I’m sure some very clever person will soon, or has already, invented some quicker charging, “less” or negligible polluting battery. With the fascinating side effect of providing renewable energy storage overnight to help smooth out supply and grid issues.

            Size and weight are important too which is where the KERS thing has an edge right now I think. And on trucks and buses it can be retrofitted.

            Cheers

            ( And thanks for the considered response)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jouni-Valkonen/736198505 Jouni Valkonen

    I do not see much future for battery swapping. Supercharging is fast enough when it is needed quick charging during road trips.

    I think that this batter swapping idea is only there, because people cannot comprehend that EVs are not meant to be charged on gas stations, but they are mostly charged during the work hours using solar electricity.

    Also from economic point of view in professional EV transportation (electric taxi and electric busses) it is always better to have bigger battery than swappable battery. Bigger battery has of course larger capital costs, but they also last longer and they give more value due to better range.

    • Ross

      Have to agree. This was always bonkers and demonstrated an extraordinary lack of vision about where things are going.

    • mds

      I have to agree too. Something I never wanted was to share a battery with somebody that abuses their …and then get stuck paying more for it. Non-starter.

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