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Electric Car Startup 'Better Place' Liquidating After $850 Million Investment 193

Posted by samzenpus
from the shutting-it-down dept.
awaissoft writes "Better Place hoped to transform the energy industry with electric cars and battery switching stations. Better Place wanted to make the world a better place by replacing gas stations with battery switching stations that would remove the driving mileage limitations from electric cars and eventually rid the world of fossil-fuel burning vehicles. But after six years and burning through $850 million, the company is filing for liquidation in an Israeli court. As reported by the Associated Press, Better Place's Board of Directors issued a written statement Sunday announcing that the company was winding down."
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Electric Car Startup 'Better Place' Liquidating After $850 Million Investment

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  • Will Tesla buy them? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by haruchai (17472) on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:05PM (#43835037)

    Since Elon has said that the Model S ( and presumably the Model X) is capable of conversion to battery swap, perhaps Tesla will try to get the Better Place switch station tech - despite the company's failure, they did have solid working tech as Tesla could benefit tremendously by not having to reinvent, er, the wheel.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why would he bother? He has a successful company, why would he want to buy a company that burned through that much money with no noticeable product. Their business model was obviously flawed.

      Battery swap is fraught with difficulties, to make it easy you lose capacity/safety, if you don't make it easy, it takes too long (a Tesla supercharger takes 1/2 hour). Also, the stations that you set up to swap the batteries have to have a lot of batteries on hand if your business is successful, this is a significant

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:29PM (#43835201)

        Hello, you are wrong.

        Regards,

        --- Elon

      • by xQx (5744) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:02PM (#43836139)
        Agree that you wouldn't buy the company, but it would make a lot of sense for them to take or buy the idea.
        I really think Better Place failed because they were unable to reach critical mass - not because they had a flawed product.

        The issue for all battery powered cars is 1/2 an hour charge is an eternity. I sometimes travel 800kms a day in my gas powered car, there is no way I could use an expensive Tesla S to replace that yet. Despite what Elon says, I don't have 1/2 hour to waste every 400kms to sit at a high-powered charge station and drink coffee, and I can't see all my customers having high-powered charge stations out the front of their buildings for me to be able to charge the car while meeting with them. Furthermore, unless there are major advancements made in room-temperature superconducting, the losses involved in fast-charging are always greater than a trickle charge. If all you need to do is swap the batteries, the charge-time becomes far less important. (Still important when you do a volume of cars, because you need more batteries in reserve)

        Look at the video of a Better Place battery swap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b0T5NUHyxs - It's just as fast and even easier than filling your car with petrol. Having these scattered around the country would eliminate the "range anxiety" that is plaguing Tesla. The key issue is that you need to have enough cars using the change-station to pay for the batteries that need to lie there in wait. The other exciting thing that better place had working was that by the fully automated nature of this station, autonomous taxies could drive themselves in, swap over, and drive away all without a driver.

        Making the cost model work is actually dead easy. I'm not sure if you have Swap & Go BBQ gas bottles in America & Europe, but here in Australia it's entirely replaced the 'take your 9kg gas bottle to the service station and have it filled' model that used to be common. Basically you pay a fixed fee for each change over. If that doesn't work (financially) you charge an annual rental + a swapover fee.

        Communal Batteries make sense. You essentially move from a 1+1 model for battery swap, to an n+1 model. It also amortizes the cost of replacing a battery over it's entire life, reducing 'bill shock' for electric car owners.

        What Telsa, Nissan, and Ford & Holden could learn from Better Place is even if they keep their proprietary battery packs for each model car, if they can agree on a standard that allows the battery to be removed and replaced vertically from the bottom of the car by a machine accessible scissor lift, the electric car will have a better future.
        • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:18PM (#43836251) Homepage

          The issue for all battery powered cars is 1/2 an hour charge is an eternity. I sometimes travel 800kms a day in my gas powered car

          Fair enough, but you are in the minority.

          • by Spoke (6112)

            Exactly. For 800 km/day (500 miles), your typical gas car will need to be fueled anywhere from 1-2 times depending on the car (typical gas cars might go 200-450 miles between fillups). Typical fuel stop might take 15 minutes at best assuming you also need to stop, use the restroom, grab a drink/snack, etc. A Model S with 200 miles range between SuperChargers will also need to be filled 2 times - but you'll need about 90 minutes of charging, or about 60-75 minutes longer than a gas car.

            A 500 mile trip, you m

            • by Quila (201335)

              I suggest that a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt might be a much better fit for that type of use.

              Or a diesel.

        • but it would make a lot of sense for them to take or buy the idea.

          What's to take or buy? A removable battery isn't exactly a revolutionary idea and neither is having a supply of them on hand to facilitate on demand swapping. It's more like an obvious technical consideration for anyone designing and building electric vehicles and their associated infrastructure.

          if they can agree on a standard that allows the battery to be removed and replaced vertically from the bottom of the car by a machine accessible scissor lift, the electric car will have a better future.

          As it is we cannot even get European and American car makers to agree what side of the vehicle to place the gas cap on in our fossil fuel vehicles and you want them to standardize the location, size and method of ba

        • by sturle (1165695)

          You sometimes travel 800km a day in your car. How often is that?

          I travel more than 500km sometimes as well. Perhaps six times a year. And frankly I don't think I ever drove 800km without taking a half an hour break for some food and life preserving coffee. (Not to mention the kids, who needs food and toilet breaks more often than me. And coffee. Especially my two year old boy. I should stop serving them coffee, but it is probably better than sugary drinks..)

          To me the convenience of waking up to a ful

        • by c0p0n (770852)

          Despite what Elon says, I don't have 1/2 hour to waste every 400kms to sit at a high-powered charge station and drink coffee,

          I would disagree with this particular bit - 400km works at 3-4hrs of continuous motorway driving. You should really take a rest every 2 hours or so, especially on very long journeys.

      • by careysub (976506)

        Why would he bother? He has a successful company, why would he want to buy a company that burned through that much money with no noticeable product."

        Let's see: according TFA -
        "...about 1,000 Better Place cars are on the roads ..." and
        "Sunday’s announcement left many questions unanswered, especially what will happen to its cars and charging stations. Better Place has also installed a network of stations in Denmark and has operations in Australia, the Netherlands, China, Hawaii and Japan."
        And according to Wikipedia: "By mid September 2012, there were 21 operational battery-swap stations open to the public in Israel".

        That may not be excessively imp

      • by symbolset (646467) *

        Battery swap is the right answer to the recharge time problem until we get supercapacitor tech. Elon doesn't need to buy this company to make that happen. Even if he did, their patents will be available at firesale prices. Musk is wary though, as white kid brought up in South Africa without the benefit of wealth and power ought to be. He's made much of himself and I can't wait to see how much more he achieves. He's the ultimate Cinderella story.

        This company ("Better Place") was a shell engineered to f

        • by Cenan (1892902)

          This company ("Better Place") was a shell engineered to fail from the beginning to suck up federal electric vehicle dollars.

          What federal dollars? Why the fuck would the feds fund battery swap stations in Denmark? (Better Place filed for bankruptcy Sunday afternoon here). Better Place gambled on electrical cars being much more popular than they turned out to be, as the CEO said "it was all about timing".

          So now we have a network of swapping stations and nobody to run them. Filing for bankruptcy now was smart, that way the stations can be re-sold to someone else and the losses gets shoveled onto the investors - as opposed to having

          • by symbolset (646467) *

            I guess you missed the point that the US Federal government subsidized this operation with loan guarantees.

            Why is a different thing I can't answer. I don't know why. Apparently you have the interest and energy to investigate the matter.

      • by XNormal (8617)

        Why would he bother? He has a successful company, why would he want to buy a company that burned through that much money with no noticeable product

        As a slashdotter, we are prone to having a bias of looking at everything as a technology development issue. But Better Place was an infrastructure project. They tried to minimize the development of any new technology. And infrastructure requires Big Money. Unfortunately, it was Big Money with the risk profile of a technology development startup. Ouch.

    • What magical technology do you need to swap batteries?
      People have been swapping AA's for decades just fine.

      • I'm under the impression that car batteries are extremely heavy, and often put in very in accessible locations because they take up a lot of space in the vehicle. So It might be ok to swap the battery out once a year when it's up on a lift, but not really practical to swap it out every couple of weeks/days.
        • I'm sure most people will get the context, but I should have specified when I said car batteries I meant in the context of an electric car, not the standard batteries used in gas powered cars today.
        • by haruchai (17472) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:26PM (#43836295)

          Have a look at the battery swap station action:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtO3BxnMoAs [youtube.com]

          • So many service attendants standing around! You would think that one of them could wash your windows while you wait for the battery swap.
          • Thanks for posting that, It was exactly how I envisioned a battery swap would work.

            It's a shame Better Place folded, I'm sure with some improvements they could have streamlined the process to make it much faster. Over 5 minutes to change one battery doesn't seem like a long time, but the required space for the lane means they wouldn't be able to do as many cars at one time as gas stations currently can. I imagine there could be four gas pumps for each one battery swap lane. There would be huge lines of ca
            • by haruchai (17472)

              I recall Agassi saying that'd done a battery swap in as little at 58 seconds and were aiming for an average of 3 min.
              To me, that swap seemed very cautious and perhaps overly safety-conscious. And the process has room for improvement.

              For example, why waste time taking the depleted battery back to the charging bay and THEN bringing the new one to the car?
              The car is there for only one reason and both car and station have computers that must communicate with each other before the battery can be released so brin

              • Exactly. If you could swap a battery in less time than it takes to fill a gas tank then you have a good trade off. It takes me 5 mins to fill my tank. As I said earlier each battery swap lane removes four gas pumps. If you could swap a battery in 30 seconds to a minute then you have a decent trade off to keep traffic flowing. Other wise you'd end up with one of those situations where there's a rumor gas prices are going to jump and everyone's lined up around the corner idling their cars waiting to get a cha
      • People have been swapping AA's for decades just fine.

        Sure, but have you noticed how much extra space is required to accommodate the battery bay with springs and contact plates? Why do you suppose that Apple chose to use integrated batteries soldered directly onto circuit boards, hardly the model of accessibility? The answer of course is space. In the case of the iPhone they were trying to make the device thin and light enough to fit comfortably into your shirt pocket. In the case of a vehicle, the more space that's taken up by vehicle systems, including batte

        • by spage (73271) <<spage> <at> <skierpage.com>> on Monday May 27, 2013 @11:24PM (#43837143)

          EV batteries are big, but adding swap capability only adds minor additional space.. The Model S pack is swappable. The problem is standardization. Better Place burned through all that money for only one battery design that only one car adopted, and even then the Renault Fluence had to have its trunk extended to make the Z.E. version fit BP's QuickDrop pack. BP hoped that customers would demand swap capability so other car companies would adopt it, but it didn't happen, and car manufactures have instead adopted many different chemistries, layouts, placement within the car, air vs. water cooling...

          EV batteries are built up from multiple slabs or sheets. Already if your battery breaks, you only replace the defective module. You could imagine swapping the individual modules for charged ones, but each still weighs around 40 pounds and has be reattached to high-voltage high-current wiring and the cooling system. It's an order of magnitude harder than prying out 8 D cells from your boombox, and again there's no "D cell" standard for EVs.

          Maybe there could be a standard for a battery extender, a cage in the trunk where you can add several of these modules to your city EV for a long trip. That avoids the problem of swapping your $12,000 pristine battery for a clapped-out beater. But all the cost-time-weight-safety-standardization tradeoffs work against it. Skip the hassle and rent a long-range car for those trips, or use the other car that's already in the garage of most American households.

          • That avoids the problem of swapping your $12,000 pristine battery for a clapped-out beater. But all the cost-time-weight-safety-standardization tradeoffs work against it. Skip the hassle and rent a long-range car for those trips, or use the other car that's already in the garage of most American households.

            This is an economic argument against it, but the fact remains that swappable battery fails in the market because not enough people really want it and why should they? It doesn't offer enough advantage over an integrated battery or simply using a regular fossil fuel vehicle to be worth the hassle. This is especially true if a household can only afford one vehicle for their cheap and reliable transportation. In such cases a quality used fossil fuel vehicle, which has already been depreciated, is the best choi

      • Humans are very good at quickly getting objects in and out of awkward spaces but only if those objects are fairly light. Your AA batteries are no problem for even a small child to handle. The starter batteries for petrol powered cars are getting towards the limit of what one person can easily and safely handle.

        Afaict an electric car battery is of the order of half a ton. Getting something that weight in and out quickly while also keeping it in a place that is sheilded from crashes and doesn't mess with the

    • Elon has said that the Model S ( and presumably the Model X) is capable of conversion to battery swap

      Capable? Yes, it could probably be done. Will it be done? No. Elon is a smart man and he knows how to say the right things to the right audience to get what he wants. However, as a practical matter the Model S already has difficulty competing with fossil fuel powered vehicles on range and even then only by making the batteries fully integrated components molded into every bit of spare room in the vehicle frame. Any additional batteries, removable or not, would further reduce either cargo or interior seating

      • by spage (73271)

        Capable? Yes, it could probably be done. Will it be done? No. Elon is a smart man and he knows how to say the right things to the right audience to get what he wants.

        More importantly, he's selling his second-generation made-in-USA car to thousands of buyers, and winning awards.

        However, as a practical matter the Model S already has difficulty competing with fossil fuel powered vehicles on range and even then only by making the batteries fully integrated components molded into every bit of spare room in the vehicle frame.

        The Model S chassis [teslamotors.com] is a thing of beauty. A compact high-power motor and reduction gearing, and a flat battery pack fills the frame because there's nothing else down there. No muffler, catalytic converter, oil pan, etc. Why not use the lot for batteries instead of taking away trunk space?

        In fact it's more like an alternative to the S class Mercedes for limousine liberals...

        Don't oversell your straw man. The $95,000 S Class is more expensive and quite a bit more luxurious.

        ... who want to appear green using our green (aka money). Tell me again why my tax dollars should be subsidizing Musk and Tesla?

        Tesla jus

        • Don't oversell your straw man. The $95,000 S Class is more expensive and quite a bit more luxurious.

          You and I both know that people in the market for a model S are looking for a top end luxury car and all that comes with that. They're going to want the leather seats, power everything, navigation with concierge service, sophisticated "glass cockpit" LCD touch screens, automatic parking and polished walnut burl inlay. The loaded price for the Model S is $96,000 [insideevs.com] (after tax credit) which puts it squarely in competition with the Mercedes S class for top end luxury. Even the base price model at $71,000 is well

          • by spage (73271)

            Meanwhile a Mercedes E-Class (is everyone driving that a "limousine whatever" too?) is a lot slower and at around 25 mpg will consume 15 tons of gasoline over 120,000 miles.

            That argument might resonate with Mercedes buyers who tend to be wealthier and therefore would care more about the environment because they're in a position to afford luxury goods. However, the Mercedes E class is also offered in a hybrid configuration for those buyers who are concerned about their carbon footprint...

            Before arguing fatuous points, go visit fueleconomy.gov. 2013 Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid gets 26 mpg. Still 15 tons of gasoline.

            ... or being seen as "green" in a chic sort of way.

            More snide comments about other drivers. What happened to you?

        • by bored (40072)

          Your sneering tone about "appearing green" ignores the genuine increase in efficiency from an electric drive. No doubt you'll bleat about coal powered cars, ignoring the increasing role of cleaner natural gas in USA's electricity generating mix, and that many buyers will install solar PV to reduce their carbon footprint further.

          You say that like natural gas is good....

          Even so, unless people buying those cars have meters in their garage that tell them when the wind farm is blowing, its likely its base load

          • by spage (73271)

            So, the green heads are as much at fault for the climate change problems as anyone.

            Comic facepalm.

    • Since Elon has said that the Model S ( and presumably the Model X) is capable of conversion to battery swap

      It's not automated, but yes, jack the car up at a dealer, detach the battery pack, attach a charged one. Tesla Motors has been vague on the details. Since owners own the car and its expensive warrantied battery pack, most likely a dealer will give you a loaner battery as a courtesy for a long trip, and you'll later return to pick up your original. Obsessive fans at Tesla Motors Club [teslamotorsclub.com] debate more elaborate swapping networks but as yet there's no evidence that Tesla will go for it. Musk has shown he'll do wha

      • by haruchai (17472)

        From what I've read, Better Place put a lot of effort into their software and communications network, which was supposed to include vehicle-to-grid for both the cars and the swap stations.

        I suppose that while Elon is making midrange to highend cars, his customers may prefer to own the batteries but as he moves towards more everyman autos, battery leasing may be an increasingly attractive option barring radical breakthroughs in battery tech, charging and cost.

        • by spage (73271)

          Bringing up financing just introduces more flaws in BP's model.

          Leasing an EV is a good idea, if you have a regular 40 mile commute get a Volt or Leaf right now and you may save money. But Better Place didn't lease you "your" battery, because it regularly gets swapped for something else. They sold you electric miles (Shai Agassi made it sound like he was freeing you from that expensive battery pack, you'd just pay to drive around cheaply on electricity). But that means buying a car becomes a messy three-way

  • not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot&hackish,org> on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:07PM (#43835047)

    Without a significant existing electric car userbase, the only real way to make money on this would be to get a manufacturer to buy in. But the only manufacturer that seems willing to spend much money on any kind of quick-charge network is Tesla, and they chose an alternate solution [teslamotors.com].

    • by haruchai (17472)

      Elon tweeted this a couple weeks ago:

      Elon Musk @elonmusk 9 May

      There is a way for the Tesla Model S to be recharged throughout the country faster than you could fill a gas tank.

      Can't say for certain that he's talking about battery swap and when it would be available but it seems the Model S is inherently capable.

  • by Farmer Tim (530755) <(roundfile) (at) (mindless.com)> on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:09PM (#43835055) Journal

    It's definitely gone to a better place now.

  • by crow (16139) on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:11PM (#43835079) Homepage Journal

    So Better Place is liquidating while Tesla is turning a profit. This shows that they were focusing on the wrong problem. Instead of creating a new infrastructure specifically for electric cars (all of which would have to standardize on battery packs, limiting design and innovation in an emerging technology), Tesla simply made sure they could be efficient enough and pack enough batteries in for about 300 miles. Tesla also figured out relatively fast charging (slower than filling up with gas, but not horrible), and is putting charging stations in major highway corridors. If the cars become popular enough, we will eventually see charging stations all over the place.

    I think people are a lot less nervous about finding an electrical outlet to charge from than they are about finding a battery swapping station.

    • by haruchai (17472)

      Shai Agassi has said for years that the Better Place swap stations were designed to accomodate multiple batteries.
      And what is so terrible about standardizing on a few formats?
      In a pure EV, there aren't many better places to put a heavy packs other than the floor.

      Also, the Better Place plan was fundamentally about charging stations as well as swap. You couldn't buy the car without a charger installed at home and at work.
      If EVs become as popular as some of us hope, there'll be a huge amount of both charging a

      • by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday May 27, 2013 @06:00PM (#43835419)

        Battery swapping technology has a number of issues;

        Form; Most electric cars shoe horn batteries into the smallest space possible requiring them to have different shapes for different cars. Standardizing restricts the form of the vehicle as well as the form of the battery.Right now almost every vehicle has a different battery.

        Cooling; To charge and run properly batteries must be cooled which further restricts the form of the battery and vehicle.

        Structure; Currently batteries are within the structure of the vehicle for strength and protection purposes. If the battery had to be removable so would the surrounding structure. This adds weight and complexity to vehicles.

        Certainty; When pulling up to a charging station is is certain that there is electricity to use. At a battery swap station it is quite possible to pull up and all the batteries of the desired type may be discharged. The swapped battery is an unknown quantity. How does one know that the battery has not been abused by someone else and won't fail in a few miles?

        Self service; At a charging station it is simple to plug a car in and charge it. An swap station would require much more skilled operation. What happens if the battery jams due to mud or snow? Who controls the charging of the batteries? Sure much of this can be automated but automation costs a lot of money.

        Duplication; High performance batteries are expensive. There would have to be multiple batteries in multiple places to support one vehicle. There would be tens of thousands of dollars in batteries sitting waiting to be used. Someone would have to pay for that.

        EV batteries are much more complex than the batteries one puts in a flashlight.

        • Actually, the real issue is that nobody will want to give up their good batteries for junk.
          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            As I stated;

            The swapped battery is an unknown quantity. How does one know that the battery has not been abused by someone else and won't fail in a few miles?

            • by haruchai (17472) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:13PM (#43836217)

              Under the Better Place plan, you don't own the battery so if you can one that's not up to your expectations, swap it again.
              I would assume the swap station can test a battery to see if it's suitable for use. Uninterruptible power supplies do this as a matter of course.

              • by jklovanc (1603149)

                so if you can one that's not up to your expectations, swap it again.

                It is difficult to swap a battery in the middle of nowhere if it fails unexpectedly. The point is that the range on different batteries will effect driving. As batteries wear out they will have to be swapped more often and it will be to the station owners' advantage to use them as long as possible. The convenience of swapping batteries has not been shown to override the limitations.

        • by haruchai (17472)

          I've heard Agassi address some of these.
          Form: If it's a BEV or one with a range extender that only charges the battery but doesn't power the car, there's no transmission to worry about.
          Also, you don't need to have an battery-swap version of every possible model; just a couple per automaker would be enough.
          Cooling: I don't know how the Fluence ZE handled this but they did - and they were selling cars in Israel, a fairly hot country.

          Duplication: Actually more like hundreds of thousands in batteries per swap s

          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            Form: If it's a BEV or one with a range extender that only charges the battery but doesn't power the car, there's no transmission to worry about.

            What I was getting at was that batteries are shaped to fit the car and not the other way around. Some cars have T shaped batteries. Other cars have rectangular batteries. I don't see where I mentioned transmissions.

            Cooling: I don't know how the Fluence ZE handled this but they did - and they were selling cars in Israel, a fairly hot country.

            Cooling is provided by a combination of of the car and the battery. Sure a car and battery can be designed together with proper cooling. Difficulties in designing the chassis can be compensated for be changes in the battery designThe issue comes in when the car has to conform to the cooling requi

            • by haruchai (17472)

              They did find a few investors who were willing to take the risk and these were people with lots of experience and deep pockets.
              You don't have to spend billions to start but as I pointed out in another post, Better Place should have gone after the commercial fleets and taxis in big cities along with providing grid storage to utilities - that alone is worth serious money.

              "Worn-out batteries"?? I guess you're unaware that when a battery pack is no longer suitable for use in an EV, it still has 70% of its capac

              • by jklovanc (1603149)

                Vehicle owners don't care about follow on uses for used batteries. They care about the cost and performance of their car and the cost of re-charging, Swap-able batteries will be more expensive to build and more expensive to recharge (considering all the more expensive stations and standby batteries) and have poorer performance due to design compromises. Better place never overcame these issues and it may not be possible..

        • by Zaelath (2588189)

          Duplication; High performance batteries are expensive. There would have to be multiple batteries in multiple places to support one vehicle. There would be tens of thousands of dollars in batteries sitting waiting to be used. Someone would have to pay for that.

          Mostly I agree, but I think you're almost exactly wrong on this point.

          You need "charging time" x "vehicles per charging time" batteries, per station. There's still some duplication, and that point is still valid, but that's entirely the point of battery replacement stations; you pay some amount of money over and above the cost of charging the battery so that you can swap out the battery instead of waiting for the charge.

          I think would almost entirely be reflected in not even buying the original battery; as y

        • While mostly valid points, there are a couple of strange ones:

          Cooling; To charge and run properly batteries must be cooled which further restricts the form of the battery and vehicle.

          Why should this be a problem for a battery switching system? Isn't it much easier to cool the batteries when they're outside of the car? Seems like this is a case of an advantage for the swapping system.

          Duplication; High performance batteries are expensive. There would have to be multiple batteries in multiple places to support one vehicle. There would be tens of thousands of dollars in batteries sitting waiting to be used. Someone would have to pay for that.

          This is also an advantage of the swapping system. Batteries are the most rapidly degrading part of the car. Assuming they are good for 500 charges and the range is 100 miles, they will need to bee replaced after 50 000 miles. So you'll need more b

          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            Why should this be a problem for a battery switching system? Isn't it much easier to cool the batteries when they're outside of the car? Seems like this is a case of an advantage for the swapping system.

            The system must also be able to be charged direct while the battery is in the vehicle. The Better Place model was that the car would be charged overnight at home most of the time and battery swapping would mainly occur on long trips. Much like the fast charging stations used by Tesla Motors.
            Lithium batteries need to be cooled during discharge as well as charging.

            So you'll need more batteries than cars upfront, but in the long run, you will keep discarding the degraded batteries without an additional hassle to the owners and it will even out.

            Who pays for the additional up front costs? Would you rather borrow $20,000 today and pay me back in 10 years or $10,000 now and another $10,000 in

        • by dak664 (1992350)

          So swap the passenger compartment onto a new chassis. No special equipment required, drive the chassis into the cab similar to the way tractors pick up front end buckets. If you buy only the cab and rent the chassis then Initial purchase cost would be small. You could switch between long distance, short distance, truck, limo, mini chassis as needed.

    • by Monoman (8745)

      Tesla's fast charging is OK but not great. If you have to stop for more than one fast charge on a trip then people are not going to like it. Assuming equal costs to the customer: If a battery swap can happen in roughly the same amount of time as a gasoline tank refill and have 100% driving range then swapping is better than quick charging.

    • by mrvan (973822) on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:43PM (#43835319)

      This is even more so for Israel, where the longest drive you can make is from the Golan heights all the way down to Eilat, which is just about 300 miles. The borders in the North are closed (Syria and Lebanon) and most Israeli have no intention whatsoever to drive to Jordan or Egypt, and the time to cross the border is at least two hours anyway so that is probably time enough to charge your car. As regards private transportation, Israel is practically an island with 99% of Israeli citizens only ever leaving the country by air.

      So, Israel is the perfect testing ground for a charging-based electric car park, and battery swapping makes a lot less sense there.

      Coupled with the strategic value of being less dependent on oil while not having relations with the biggest oil producers, and the fact that solar makes a lot of sense in the middle east, I hope that another company with a more sensible model will succeed.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      So Better Place is liquidating while Tesla is turning a profit. This shows that they were focusing on the wrong problem. Instead of creating a new infrastructure specifically for electric cars (all of which would have to standardize on battery packs, limiting design and innovation in an emerging technology), Tesla simply made sure they could be efficient enough and pack enough batteries in for about 300 miles. Tesla also figured out relatively fast charging (slower than filling up with gas, but not horrible), and is putting charging stations in major highway corridors. If the cars become popular enough, we will eventually see charging stations all over the place.

      I think people are a lot less nervous about finding an electrical outlet to charge from than they are about finding a battery swapping station.

      they were chargeable in other ways than swapping the battery packs.
      but it's pretty expensive to keep a battery pack network.. you need 2-3x the battery packs. considering how expensive part of the car they are, it really is expensive.

      on the other hand, they tried to sell these to normal commuters.. tesla being a luxury market item.

      they were probably losing money on every car they sold/leased and at higher pricing it would have gone to just stupid pricing - considering that israel has expensive gas(no idea i

    • Not quite. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Shivetya (243324)

      Tesla was focused on maximizing their non car selling income. If not for the tax credits, carbon credits, and so on, Tesla would not be in the position they are now. In other words, they riding on our backs and using politicians for their gain,.

    • by Solandri (704621)

      So Better Place is liquidating while Tesla is turning a profit. This shows that they were focusing on the wrong problem. Instead of creating a new infrastructure specifically for electric cars (all of which would have to standardize on battery packs, limiting design and innovation in an emerging technology), Tesla simply made sure they could be efficient enough and pack enough batteries in for about 300 miles.

      I wouldn't jump to that conclusion so quickly. There's an unknown fraction of the population whic

      • by Jeremi (14640) on Monday May 27, 2013 @07:34PM (#43836007) Homepage

        [An ICE car] can go about 350 miles between refueling stops.

        All true, but it should be pointed out that driving 350 miles (in any car) sucks. It means you are sitting in a chair, unable to do anything but watch the road in front of you, for 5+ tedious hours.

        Most people who need to go that far would prefer to take an airplane; and certainly anyone who can afford a Tesla can afford plane tickets.

        So I see the 300 mile range limit as largely a non-issue (outside of perception/marketing, anyway).

        • by tftp (111690)

          it should be pointed out that driving 350 miles (in any car) sucks. It means you are sitting in a chair, unable to do anything but watch the road in front of you, for 5+ tedious hours.

          I drive 450 miles per day sometimes. If mere 350 miles suck for you, you are doing something wrong. To me, the drive is pleasing, relaxing, and entertaining. If you need more than just watching the road, you are always free to listen to the radio, a CD, or an audio book. If you have a cell phone you can hold a teleconferenc

    • Tesla's not turning a profit due to focusing on an electric car. According to this WSJ story http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324659404578499460139237952.html [wsj.com] it's due to selling pollution credits to other car makers. Add to that the tax credits offered by State and Federal income tax, a large loan from the US federal government and federal grants - well we're not talking about a business model that stands on just selling a better electric car idea.
      • by Zebedeu (739988)

        In fairness, they can't produce enough of the things to match demand.
        That has to say something to their product.

        The question is: if they were able to match demand, would they make a profit?
        If so, then the fact that they're already cash-positive (if artificially), means they have a viable long-term future.

        • What's fair about federal tax dollars being used to both prop up the company and provide cash to people to buy the product? Do they have a demand problem without the tax incentives? Why didn't the $500 million federal loan go into production to meet the demand. I call BS on the demand claim. If the demand is that high then they wouldn't need federal loans and tax incentives.
          • by Zebedeu (739988)

            I call BS on the demand claim.

            Tesla Motors is a publicly traded company. You're welcome to go over their numbers if you'd like.
            Unless you want to claim they're lying in their financial reports, in which case you can report them to the proper authorities.

            • It's interesting that neither you or anyone else want's to take up the debate about using tax dollars to prop up a commercial enterprise. Does Tesla exist because of or in spite of tax dollars. Keep in mind Elon has more than one enterprise befitting from tax dollars. Did Better Place fail because it's home country didn't prop it up well enough? Is any of this a good use of tax dollars - especially when most tax payers do not benefit and the business owners are enormously enriched?
              • by Zebedeu (739988)

                Perhaps nobody wants to take up that debate because you obviously have a political axe to grind.
                I have my own opinion on the use of tax dollars here, but I don't want to get into it because I know it'll turn into a never ending discussion on politics.

                I have better stuff to do with my time, and I do not live or pay taxes in the US, so I don't think my opinion is too relevant here anyway.

                But good luck finding someone who will debate you though.

  • So then ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by LordKaT (619540) on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:14PM (#43835097) Homepage Journal

    You mean the lack of customers is a hindrance to business? You mean to tell me that businesses don't exist to make the world a better place by trying to force a product into a niche that isn't exactly there yet?

    Huh. I could have sworn this was going to work. I mean, there's absolutely no profit in fossil fuels, right?

    It's not about being "old fashioned" either. It's about what works. Electric doesn't work for the vast majority of the world - yet. The business there right now is either niche ultra-high-end, or utility - both of which require a large up-front investment that you're only going to find in certain places. There's a growing niche for big-city transport, but that requires investments that many municipalities aren't willing to make just yet.

    There are also a lot of problems that electric doesn't solve, like the big-haul transportation industry. Sure, you could offload that work to a national rail network, but then you run into the problem of overloaded rail traffic. In America, that's a bigger problem than you would actually imagine. (eg: it's becomming

    Electric cars might be coming for the masses, but these guys were way ahead of the curve. A successful business launches right before the peak of the curve - and we're nowhere near there yet for electric cars.

    So then, I'm not surprised. Sad that it didn't work out for them, but, really, did you expect anything else?

    • by Zeromous (668365)

      > ultra-high-end

      I'm not sure what you're driving but I'd consider $100k very much upper middle class vehicle.

  • It was a horrible implementation of a mediocre idea. And the company was designed to waste as much money as possible.
  • by westlake (615356) on Monday May 27, 2013 @05:41PM (#43835307)

    It's been said elsewhere that every electric car manufacturer has its own solution for the core technologies of batteries and charging.

    There is only one car that you can re-charge at Better Place.

    The wholly automated Better Place station costs around $500,000. That's not easy to recover when in all of Israel there were only about 700 of these cars on the roads.
         

  • Misquoted (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What he actually said was "The investor money has gone to a better place.... our pockets. You're all fired and we're bankrupt. See ya, bitches."

  • Thats a lot of dollars to burn. What did they spend it on? Thats way more then Tesla spent to get their car into production.
    • by fermion (181285)
      Pets.com blew though $400 million in two years in todays dollars. And presumable they had no significant R&D costs, and no physical product, other than the sock puppet. It was all spent on snacks and advertising.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 27, 2013 @07:27PM (#43835961)

    "Better Place" was using proprietary charging outlets with smartcard-style protection, and pushed for a law prohibiting competitors from using their outlet infrastructure.
    From the start it sounded like a nightmare case of vendor-lock-in. As an Israeli consumer - I say good riddance.

    Open infrastructure, ability to charge the car from electrical outlet in your driveway, and laws permitting car conversion to electricity is the fertile ground needed to make EVs thrive.

    To demonstrate the point let's compare e-bicycle/e-scooter market vs. e-mopeds. E-bike or e-scooter costs from 1K to 2.5k USD in Israel, and market is thriving.
    Gasoline powered bikes and mopeds are extremely popular, especially in large cities. As a contrast due to laws, regulations and insane insurance costs - you have to search long and hard to find an e-moped on the street.

  • by storkus (179708) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:59PM (#43836469)

    "...a former top executive at software maker SAP..."

    I really think this says it all: it would be like having an IBM exec trying to run Google when it was a startup--you don't put curmugeons in charge of something this new (IMHO).

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday May 27, 2013 @09:07PM (#43836521) Homepage

    The problem was the CEO, Shai Agassi. I heard him speak at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco once. He came across as a con man. He's good looking, a good speaker, and talks total bullshit. He was talking about expanding his company by a factor of 10 every year. Nobody does that in a business which requires substantial real-world infrastructure or a large number of employees. This was after five years in which the most his company had actually accomplished was a 3-taxi demo in Tokyo that only ran for three months.

    Battery swapping was never a good idea to begin with. It was a bet against improved battery technology - a bet which required a huge infrastructure to make work at all. A full-scale battery swap system would require as many battery swap stations as gas stations. Each would be big, more like a car wash than a pump island.

    The battery swap stations Better Place built in Israel are single-lane stations that require about five minutes for a battery swap. So they correspond to a one-pump gas station, but cost much more.

  • While I think they were right to agressively build the infrastructure of charge points and switch stations and did a lot of great work with the swap stations, communications network and publicity, I think they focused far too much on the end-user market, even in Israel.

    I'm going to make some assumptions which may be wrong but, in Agassi's place, I would have gone after the utilities more - build the switch stations fairly early on and use them to support energy generation, wind & solar farms, peak-shaving, whatever, for a price.
    It's hard to say if it would have been profitable but it would have been bringing in some cash on a regular basis and might have alleviated nervousness in the investors.
    The next failing was having only one (battery switch) vehicle and that being a passenger car - a light truck and / or delivery van ( like Brightsource's effort ) should also have been added which brings us to failure #3 - not chasing company fleets and taxis.

    There are lots of crowded big cities with crappy air and people and goods on the move. Delivery vans may run all day but most don't go very far from where they park, much like most taxis.
    If the effort had been focused on a handful of large cities with the intent of replacing 5% of their ICE taxis and delivery vans, it would have been money better spent and the company might still be afloat.

  • Technology, as much as we think when it's disruptive and ground breaking is rarely ever revolutionary. It's not like everyone started to use Windows instead of DOS, or that in one fell swoop the mobile market switched from dumb phones to smart phones overnight.

    In that sense, Better Place seemed indeed to have focused on the wrong problem. Yes, electric charging stations are far and in between. Right now. But unlike gas pumps, practically every residential unit and business location can have one. So, for n
  • by rthille (8526) <web-slashdot@@@rangat...org> on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @12:15AM (#43837373) Homepage Journal

    I'd love a full-electric car, with about 50-80 mile range, which could tow a trailer or hook up a hitch mounted rack with a generator in/on it for longer trips. Drive it to work/shopping on a daily basis, rent the gen-trailer when going on a ling trip.

  • Although it's slightly expensive, the Chevy Volt is a good compromise for those wanting to drive an electric and needing the range. I should know I own one. In the summers when mostly doing in city driving, the Volt's roughly 40 mile range battery gets me around gas free and charges entirely at night when I sleep. I also recently completed a 1300 mile cross-country road trip across Canada fuelling up with gas every roughly 200 miles or so. So basically you have a fully electric car if you don't drive to

  • Swappable car batteries have no future outside of motorsports. There are many problems which are pointed out by the EV-haters every time the topic comes up, and very soon cars will have enough range not just for the average commute, but exceeding the range of a full tank of gas.

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