28 May 2013


THis article was on Antony Loewenstein's blog on 27 May 2013:

Israeli electric car company, promoted as progressive, dies

This is a clas­sic case of main­stream jour­nal­ists, so keen to pro­mote Pro­gres­sive and Green Is­rael, shilling for Is­raeli elec­tric cor­po­ra­tion Bet­ter Place. The fact that mem­bers of its board had trou­bling human rights records and it op­er­ated in the oc­cu­pied West Bank was con­ve­niently ig­nored.

Now news that will sad­den no­body ex­cept in­di­vid­u­als who be­lieve that find­ing al­ter­na­tives to fos­sil fuels should not in­volve con­sid­er­ing human rights of Pales­tini­ans (via New York Times):

The vi­sion was am­bi­tious. Bet­ter Place, an elec­tric ve­hi­cle in­fra­struc­ture com­pany, un­veiled plans more than five years ago to pi­o­neer a sys­tem of quick-ser­vice bat­tery swap­ping sta­tions across Is­rael to en­able un­lim­ited travel.

The com­pany’s founder pre­dicted that 100,000 elec­tric cars would be on the roads here by 2010.

But on Sun­day, Bet­ter Place an­nounced that its ven­ture, a flag­ship en­ter­prise of Is­rael’s image as a start-up hub, was com­ing to an end.

Dan Cohen, the com­pany’s third chief ex­ec­u­tive, said in a state­ment that fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties had left the com­pany no op­tion but to file for liq­ui­da­tion in a dis­trict court and to re­quest the ap­point­ment of a pro­vi­sional re­ceiver “to find the best way to min­i­mize the dam­age to its em­ploy­ees, cus­tomers and cred­i­tors.”

The an­nounce­ment fol­lowed a string of set­backs in the emerg­ing elec­tric car mar­ket. Fisker, a car­maker, is in fi­nan­cial dis­tress; A123 Sys­tems, a bat­tery sup­plier for Fisker, and, more re­cently, Coda Hold­ings, an­other car­maker, filed for bank­ruptcy. Tesla, the promi­nent car man­u­fac­turer, has had suc­cess, though, re­pay­ing its gov­ern­ment loan last week after a suc­cess­ful sale of new shares.

Is­rael had been con­sid­ered a per­fect test­ing ground for Bet­ter Place’s green pro­ject, given the coun­try’s small size and high gaso­line prices. The elec­tric car fit into Is­raeli dreams of re­duc­ing oil de­pen­dency; the ini­tia­tive gained the sup­port of the gov­ern­ment and was em­braced by Shi­mon Peres, the pres­i­dent of Is­rael. Pres­i­dent Obama, dur­ing his March visit here, praised the Is­raelis’ in­no­v­a­tive spirit, men­tion­ing elec­tric cars as one of sev­eral ex­am­ples.

Yet the pro­ject was hob­bled by prob­lems and de­lays, and the com­pany’s idea failed to gain trac­tion, with fewer than 1,000 cars on the road in Is­rael and an­other few hun­dred in Den­mark.

Mr. Cohen said on Sun­day that the vi­sion and the model had been right, but that the pace of mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion had not lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions. With­out a large in­jec­tion of cash, he said, Bet­ter Place was un­able to con­tinue its op­er­a­tions.

“This is a very sad day for all of us,” Mr. Cohen added. “The com­pany brought with it a vi­sion that swept along many peo­ple here and around the world.”

About $850 mil­lion in pri­vate cap­i­tal has been in­vested in the com­pany, which has 350 em­ploy­ees in Is­rael. The largest share­holder, with about 30 per­cent of the stock, was the Is­rael Cor­po­ra­tion, a large hold­ing com­pany that fo­cuses on chem­i­cals, en­ergy, ship­ping and trans­porta­tion. The cor­po­ra­tion’s de­ci­sion not to in­vest fur­ther in Bet­ter Place led to the mo­tion for re­ceiver­ship.

The Bet­ter Place model for elec­tric car use emerged from an ef­fort among man­u­fac­tur­ers and sup­pli­ers to es­tab­lish a stan­dard in­fra­struc­ture in the nascent in­dus­try.

Under terms that re­sem­bled a cell­phone plan, sub­scribers to Bet­ter Place bought their cars and paid about $350 a month to lease ac­cess to the bat­ter­ies, swap sta­tions and charge points. But only one car man­u­fac­turer, the French au­tomaker Re­nault, signed on to adapt its Flu­ence Z.E. sedan to en­able bat­tery switch­ing, lim­it­ing the cus­tomers’ choices and the com­pany’s po­ten­tial.

The bat­tery has a range of about 100 miles. For those trav­el­ing longer dis­tances, Bet­ter Place set up a net­work of switch­ing sta­tions where it promised that swap­ping a de­pleted bat­tery for a fully charged one would take about the same time as fill­ing a car with gas, so that range would no longer be an issue.

“It’s not the fu­ture of gas sta­tions; it’s the end of them,” the com­pany Web site boasted.

About three dozen switch­ing sta­tions now dot Is­rael, which is about 260 miles long from north to south, but they often look de­serted.

The com­pany was founded in Palo Alto, Calif., by Shai Agassi, an Is­raeli en­tre­pre­neur who had pre­vi­ously been a top ex­ec­u­tive at SAP, the Ger­man soft­ware com­pany. It then moved from Cal­i­for­nia to Tel Aviv.

In Oc­to­ber, Bet­ter Place said that Mr. Agassi had been suc­ceeded as its chief by Evan Thorn­ley, the com­pany’s top ex­ec­u­tive in Aus­tralia. The com­pany said Mr. Agassi would con­tinue as a board mem­ber and share­holder. Mr. Thorn­ley left after only three months, over dif­fer­ences re­gard­ing the di­rec­tion of the com­pany, ac­cord­ing to Globes , the Is­raeli busi­ness pub­li­ca­tion. He was suc­ceeded by Mr. Cohen.

In Feb­ru­ary, Bet­ter Place an­nounced that it was wind­ing down its op­er­a­tions in North Amer­ica and Aus­tralia to con­cen­trate on its core mar­kets in Den­mark and Is­rael.

Mr. Cohen said on Sun­day that the com­pany would do what it could to con­tinue to serve its cus­tomers and op­er­ate the recharg­ing net­work, until the liq­uida­tor de­cided on a course of ac­tion.

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm