Better Place has started distribution of electric cars in Israel.
Five years ago, charismatic businessman Shai Agassi surprised his acquaintances and employer when he switched from hi-tech to the infrastructure business. He founded Project Better Place, later changed to Better Place, in order to develop an infrastructure for electric cars. And four years ago he founded Better Place Israel and specifically concentrated on development and the building of charging points and battery swapping stations in his native country.
In those five years he managed to recruit serious investors, rose over $700 million in three rounds of fundraising, and leveraged his business acumen to create the right environment for launching the venture. And just last week, a 70 unit-long EV cavalcade took to the streets of Tel Aviv and the highway that cuts through the city to celebrate the project's first success. The most critical piece of Agassi's business plan was attracting at least one major automaker that would be ready to make a car with a swappable battery, his main project selling point.
Enter Renault, who invested heavily in the promotion of electric mobility, took up the challenge and in its Turkish plant, converted the four-door sedan Fluence into an EV called Fluence Z.E. which is equipped with 95hp electric motor and a "quick drop" (Renault's term) apparatus for battery swaps. Better Place was tasked with developing and building the swappable stations. Each has a robot that can replace and move the 280 kg lithium-ion battery in just three minutes. The company also had to develop an advanced control system for the EVs in order reduce the famous range anxiety.
For the last few months, the cars have gone through grueling testing on Israeli roads and after a few delays, which are expected for such a pioneering project, the first 70 cars were delivered this past week to their owners. All of whom are Better Place employees who will be the 'guinea pigs' for the cars and system before mass distribution starts in the second quarter of 2012. "Four years ago today we declared on the establishment of the company in Israel at the President's residence with Carlos Ghosn, the president of Renault-Nissan alliance," said Agassi, in a statement.
"At that time we had only a vision and white papers; no doubt in four years we have proved unequivocally that when a target is set and you act decisively, it is possible to do it and to generate a global change." "This is the proof that it is here and it is happening," said Moshe Kaplinski, Better Place Israel CEO. "This is the first wave of the electric car on the roads and Better Place's employees are leading the change. This is the first wave that heralds of thousands of electric cars that will be sold in the country during the year."