With Better Place "Wind Down" in US, EV Battery-Swapping Fades

By · February 14, 2013

Better Place charging station

By all appearances, EV battery-swap specialist Better Place is in trouble, and as a result, any hope of EV battery swapping in large global markets are dashed. Last week, the company fired its second CEO after only 100 days in service, and announced that it will "wind down" operations in the U.S. and Australia, in order to focus its strategy and efforts in Denmark and Israel.

This leaves Better Place operating in two small markets, where as the company puts it, a "complete infrastructure is in place and commercial operations are fully underway." Yet, Better Place has spent about $500 million to date, and has a very small customer base: about 500 customers in Israel, and 500 customers in Denmark (200 of which have cars that don't allow batteries to be swapped).

The company also lacks the leadership and fundraising ability of Shai Agassi, its dynamic founder. He was let go in late September, after an apparent disagreement over company direction with Better Place's board of directors. Last week, Gigaom reported that Agassi still believes in the battery swap model. “I don’t have an issue with the model, I had a problem with the company,” Agassi told Gigaom on the sidelines of the Cleantech Investor Summit in Palm Springs, Calif.

Better Place's projected US sites

The swap and charge network that Better Place had planned to build in California. It has been put on the shelf indefinitely.

Dan Cohen, who became the third CEO of Better Place last week, put a positive spin on the new strategy. "We are now focusing on realizing the full potential of what we have built," he said. "That means concentrating our resources and energy in the near term, on Denmark and Israel."

But in the U.S., the picture for EV swapping is bleak, in part becase hundreds of DC Quick Charge locations are finally being installed (many of them offering free electricity) in key American markets. The Quick Chargers cost a fraction of what battery swapping requires to install (around $3 million per swap station). And there is no sign of car companies stepping up to create EV models suited to battery swapping. With Better Place pulling out of the U.S., all the evidence points to the end of EV battery swapping as a viable solution at least for a few years, if not forever.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.