Thursday, June 06, 2013

No Better Place?

The news of the failure of Shai Agassi's Better Place company, that was introducing all-electric cars into Israel, has come as a shock.  But, it was known that there was not a large enthusiastic flood of electric car buyers.  People are cautious, including myself.  My car broke down a few years ago and I had to replace it, I was not prepared to wait until an electric car was available.  Also, I drive short distances, so an electric car would not represent a worthwhile investment for me.  With only ca. 1,000 electric cars on the road, and add to this the fact that Israel has now found huge quantities of natural gas together with much crude petroleum at several sites out in the Mediterranean off Haifa, and you see that  the future for Better Place looked grim.  It has now declared bankruptcy and has been placed into receivership. 
This certainly does not mean that the concept or dream of having electric cars and gasoline independence for Israel is over.  Very often new ideas and innovations take a critical time to be accepted.  It took a long time for people to be reassured that large metal boats would not sink, and even after the Titanic and the Concordia people still go on cruises.  It took a long time for people to accept that they could talk into a telephone and converse with someone over distance, and flying in planes was initially considered too dangerous for passengers.  But, now all these things are part of the fabric of our lives.  So with electric cars, a time will come when the concept will become reality, Better Place was ahead of its time.
There were several things wrong with the Better Place approach that could be improved upon.  First, they rushed ahead to have fleets in Israel, Denmark, Australia and elsewhere, instead of proving the concept in one place.  Second, the battery switching maneuver which would allow the cars to drive long distances was flawed, because people don't want to have even this inconvenience, they want to be able to drive as far as they like without worry.   Third, there are other battery and non-gasoline concepts, such as hybids and hydrogen cells and natural gas tanks that could also work.  Also, there was a lack of Israeli government support to push the concept and facilitate the development of the necessary chain of battery switiching stations.  When in the future this technology is worked out and one approach comes to the fore, Better Place will be seen as a historic initiative that paved the way for gasoline independence.
There was a report in the J'sam Post Mon morning that Yosef Abramowitz, the entrepreneur founder of the solar power network in the Negev, known as Mr. Sunshine, has made an offer for Better Place.  It remains to be seen if he will offer enough cash to cover the company's deficit.


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