More than five months have passed since Shai Agassi’s Better Place electric car company put its first 100 Renault Fluence EV on Israeli roads. The event was covered with a certain amount of local fanfare and only afterwards was it revealed that a number of these cars were sent to major rental car companies for their use and not to private buyers. That was obvious to be expected, as the company’s EV car debut in the country where the Better Place electric car idea began is still in its trial period.
Financial losses during the first year of operation for any new venture is also something not out of the ordinary; and when it was later reported that the company has reported revenue losses of millions from slow sales of these cars, this must also be taken in stride by the company who has just begun to establish its battery recharge and replacement network in a few selected locations if the country.
After having visited the Better Place Test Drive and Education Center just north of Tel Aviv in April, 2010, I still had reservations about the idea of a country-wide EV car network succeeding in Israel.
These feelings have been influenced by issues involving electric cars not only in a small country like Israel but in other countries like Denmark; where Better Place’s battery charging and replacement stations have still had only a marginal impact on the EV market potential in Danmark.
In the aftermath of last January’s launch of 100 Renault Fluence EV Cars in Israel, I had still yet to see one of these cars actually driving down the roads; and have closely looked at every Renault Fluence car on the roads to see whether they were running on electricity and not fossil fuel.
Last week I saw my first car on the road in an upper middle class community of Ramat Hasharon, located a few kilometers north of Tel Aviv. Upon pulling up to a traffic light, I found myself behind another Renault Fluence salon car; but this time I noticed something different. Embossed on the car’s rear bumper was the Better Place logo and in the left rear corner was printed: 100% Electric. The other difference is that when the light changed, the car was almost noiseless, except for a slight whirring sound. I didn’t get a change to talk to the car’s driver.
Although the Better Place EV cars that have been sold so far have been to buyers in the country’s central region, due to the needed charging infrastructure being developed there first, one person, Dave Rose who lives in Israel’s Galilee region has purchased one of the cars and was interviewed recently by Channel 10 News.
Rose said that he averages anywhere from 80 to 100 km between charges, depending on time of day and road driving conditions. Rose added that he hopes the Better Place infrastructure will become developed enough so he can “drive the car all to way to Eilat.”
When asked what influenced him to purchase the car, he told Channel 10 that the motivation was influenced a lot by wanting to do his part to improve air pollution conditions by using such a car. He added that in his previous gasoline driven car, he spent an average of NIS 2,000 ($530) per month on fuel costs. With the Better Place car, he presently spends NIS 1,000 per month (half the fuel) on a monthly service “membership” charge that includes the electricity used to recharge the car’s battery pack.
Spending this much on monthly electricity usage appears to indicate the number of kilometers driven by this owner isn’t a large amount; and with consumer electricity costs due to increase significantly in the near future, Rose’s monthly membership costs are also likely to rise proportionally.
In light of all of the above, the progress of the Better Place EV car network in both Israel and elsewhere will continue to be a matter of “wait and see” observations for this writer.
Read more more on Better Place progress in Israel and elsewhere: