Better Place Pulled Down Israel and Denmark Electric Car Markets, Say Local Drivers

By · December 13, 2013

Better Place Charger, Denmark

A Better Place electric car charging station in Copenhagen. (Photo: Brad Berman)

Among the high-profile electric car flameouts in 2013, Better Place was the most spectacular. Unprecedented hype and $850 million of investment came crashing down in May, leaving a set of Better Place assets that a few weeks ago were purchased for $450,000 by Gnrgy, an Israeli energy start-up founded in 2008. We are only now starting to understand how Better Place’s bankruptcy affected electric car owners, who were dependent on the company’s fledgling EV refueling technology.

The stories told by local drivers located shed light on what resulted from Better Place's top-down strategy of trying to revolutionize and own a vast expanse of the EV ecosphere—including in-vehicle technology, refueling stations and networking services. The driver testimonials come from outreach conducted by PlugInsights—the market research firm that is a sister organization to PluginCars.com.

Back to Gas

One Israel-based owner of a 2012 Renaulf Fluence Z.E., purchased through Better Place, explained that at this stage, battery swapping is shut down, public charging spots have been disconnected, and dealerships that might sell EVs have been scared off. “We had to buy a gas car after Better place went bankrupt,” he said.

As a result, EV drivers promised to pay about $2 to travel 100 kilometers in an electric vehicle, have returned to internal combustion, which according to the respondent, costs closer to about $9 for the same distance. “Low operating cost,” was cited as one of the main reasons for his purchase of the Fluence, along with environment benefits, cool technology, and more fun behind the wheel.

Ran Eloya, chief executive of Gnrgy, told Associated Press that his company would focus Better Place’s renewal on successfully operating the 1,800 public charging spots that serve Israel’s 1,000 or so electric cars. Batter swapping will not be offered. The Israeli Fluence driver said that public charging spots were disconnected because property owners were bearing the cost of providing juice at their charging stations. The drivers are now reliant on home and workplace charging, in many cases, using portable chargers.

Incentives Only for Pure EVs

The Israeli plug-in car market is limited. The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, which is less reliant on public charging, is available—but is quite costly. In many global markets, including Denmark—another country where Better Place operated—electric-drive vehicles using any form of internal combustion to extend range do not qualify for incentives.

For example, a Danish driver of a 2013 Renault Zoe, explained via PlugInsights that the upcoming BMW i3, when configured as a pure battery-electric vehicle, is exempt from the country’s hefty 180% vehicle registration tax. As a result, the i3’s local price is around U.S. $55,000. But for consumers wanting the range-extending engine—a feature that adds $3,850 to the sticker of the car in the U.S.—the i3’s Danish price is pushed above $100,000 (because the registration tax remains in place).

Better Place battery swapping station in Israel, prior to bankrupcy

Better Place battery swapping station in Israel, prior to the company's bankruptcy.

Increased Skepticism

He explained that, despite public support for EVs expressed by Danish authorities, private EV owners are “still few and far between” and public charging is scarce and expensive. “It is still impossible to drive across our country, small as it is,” he said. “As soon as more chargers are installed, we will do it.” He cited a statistic that only six electric Zoe cars were sold in Denmark in November—partly explained by the lack of knowledge of the car by local dealerships, as well as insufficient public charging.

The Zoe driver in Denmark, like the Fluence EV owner in Israel, said that the legacy of Better Place—which was trumpeted as a major catalyst for EV adoption—is profoundly negative. “Unfortunately, the fact that our country, together with only Israel, was the test lab for Better Place and the unfortunate Renault Fluence has meant that many people are now skeptical toward EVs,” he wrote. “Better Place has made Denmark a worse place for electric vehicles since the company dramatic demise in May 2013.”

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