We Interview Better Place Car Owners in Israel

better place battery switchInside a Better Place battery switching station. Maurice interviews two Better Place electric car buyers who defend their decision to buy electric, and support the company which is flailing financially.

Better Place international CEO Shai Agassi has been fired from the company he founded ; and in the wake of his departure, the company may also be laying off large numbers of staff, according to media rumors. But despite these recent revelations, owners of the Renault Fluence ZE cars that were redesigned to be total electric are still upbeat regarding the future of the company which introduced its battery switching network into Israel and other countries as well; including Australia and Denmark david and aviva rose, better place ZE electric car David and Aviva Rose and the ZE car they love. Photo: David Rose

Following my second test drive of these cars after revisiting the Better Place center near Tel Aviv  in June, 2012, I interviewed some ZE car owners to find out how they like the car and the service network that went “online” in the spring of 2012.

ZE car purchasers I contacted included an American couple who live in a small rural village in the northern Galilee, an ultra orthodox couple who made Aliyah from the southern part of the USA and now live  in Ramot Beit Shemesh; and a British man who became a Better Place believer after seeing a convoy of 100 electric cars driving down the highway following the launch of the company’s road service network in January of this year.

At the time of the original interview, David Rose, who lives with his wife Aviva in a village north of lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was one of the first recipients of a Better Place ZE car after receiving it in April. Both he and Aviva have driven the car extensively and praise the company’s road service network, especially the battery exchange stations. Rose told me that switching batteries at these stations “take about the same time as running a car through an automatic car wash”.

Following the publicity storm revolving around Shai Agassi’s dismissal as CEO, Rose is still optimistic about the future of Better Place and blames the Israeli media as well as the “Ottomanic bureaucracy that runs this country” for not doing enough to help advance this network as well as offering enough incentives to the public to induce them to purchase these cars.

As stated in David’s own words, he tells Green Prophet: “All of us of course have different thoughts concerning Shai Agassi and the Better Place’s current state of affairs. Many were devastated, all were sorry with his absence and the lack of fluid explanations.

“We were all particularly upset with the way he was handled by the press, it was in general viscous. All I can say is if this was the way the Jewish press of the day spoke of Ben Gurion, it is more than a miracle this country ever got off the ground.

“But the recent sale to the Elco Group proves that interest by large companies in the concept is exactly what will occur! Maybe it will not happen in the time frame that Shai had hoped for, and certainly not in the time frame that the media had expected. By following the full scale operation of the Better Place switching network, one can see that it is an achievement that has received little, if any, positive acknowledgement from the government.  Considering the Ottomanic bureaucracy that runs this country, what Better Place has done is a fascinating achievement!”

Rose went on to say that “Shai Agassi is a visionary” who brought Better Place to a point where it no longer can be called an initiative, but rather a company.

Rose thinks that Evan Thornley, the global group’s new CEO, is a facilitator and manage who will take the company worldwide in an ever expanding number of countries and formats. As for Better Place Israel, Rose thinks that Moshe Klaplinsky, the company CEO for Israel, will succeed in putting a respectable number of cars on the road. By 2020, the electric car will be the normal mode of personal transportation. “Of this I have no doubt,” says David Rose. “We will just need to convince folks one car at a time. I am, like all other Better Place owners, in love with my car and continue to do whatever I can to sell, more and more cars,” he adds.

better place brian london electric car

Brian London and his new Renault ZE car.  Photo: Brian London

Brian London, who immigrated to Israel from the UK with his wife Keren less than 4 years ago, purchased a Renault Fluence ZE car from Better Place in May 2012 when his immigrant car purchase rights were about to expire. A former “petrol guy” who had driven all types of cars in his former country, London says he was impressed by the way the ZE car handles, even as good or better than many luxury cars.

“I was very impressed by the car’s silence on the road as well as its handling qualities, which remind me a lot of how super luxury models feel,” he tells Green Prophet.

Following the previously mentioned media storm, London is still positive about the company’s future and believes that Better Place will fare better in markets outside of Israel, especially in countries like China. London told me as follows:

“After a couple of weeks (of media Better Place bashing), I’m still fairly positive. Israel’s car market with its cartel of car importers and leasing companies should never have been any mark of the company’s ability to sell.

“I do agree that local selling in Israel was hopeless; and some of the blame for that falls directly on Shai as he put his sister in charge of marketing in Israel. That’s my only complaint about him. But having seen China, I understand how much bigger Better Place’s potential there is than Israel. Israel is only relevant in one respect: can the system work and are the customers happy. Obviously, it works now and we have to see if customers stay happy as numbers increase. But so far, Better Place has exceeded my expectations. Financially the company won’t succeed or fail based on Israeli sales; except only in as far as the confidence that investors maintain.

So much for comments by current ZE car owners. The big question as far as Israel is concerned is how many new ZE car customers will be going online in the Better Place service network. The jury is still out on this issue.

Read more about Better Place:
Shai Agassi Fired From Better Place Electric Car Company
Better Place Electric Car Company Lays Off Staff?
Better Place Sells 125 Renault ZE’s to Huge Industrial Group in Israel

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2 thoughts on “We Interview Better Place Car Owners in Israel”

  1. Maurice says:

    There are a few “Technical” problems involving car owners being able to replace these lithium ion battery packs themselves, Guillaume. For one thing, the packs are very expensive, costing around US 12,500 each. That’s why Better Place was able to make the car somewhat affordable since the company owns the batteries.

    Also, the packs are large and very heavy; around 250 kg.

    Maybe one day with advance technology and the ability to reduce the size of the packs (or create them from fuel cells and micro-circuitry) they will be much smaller and lighter.

    But the system does work and only takes about 4-5 minutes to change the battery pack.

  2. Better Place is a superb project but for rich countries. I think that car owners should be able to replace themselve batteries instead of passing through an expensive robot..

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