Better Place Bankruptcy is a Sad Day for Electric Car Industry

It is a sad day. Better Place’s battery swap technology is an obvious and practical technological solution to a basic problem of physics and electrochemistry, it is both dangerous and difficult to rapidly charge a chemical battery. While we wait for supercapacitors and methanol fuel cells, Better Place had a solution that worked well with proven technology. Last summer a Renault Zoe using Better Place technology set a 24 hour electric car distance record.

But anyone who follows technology should understand that economic and social factors often get in the way of steady technological progress. Just look at automobile history:

The rechargeable battery electric car was invented by French physicist Gaston Planté in 1856.  In 1878, a Methodist minister named John Wesley Carhart proved that a steam-powered car he named the “Spark” could travel long distances under its own power.

But when it frightened a valuable horse belonging to industrialist J.I. Case to death, it was banished from the city and the world would have to wait until 1886 when Karl Benz and then later Henry Ford would bring back an idea whose time had finally come.

Similar examples of technological regressions and reinventions can be found in the history of electric lighting. Better Place had a better idea for electric car charging, and if we can learn anything from history– most good ideas eventually see the light of day.

Israel’s pioneering electric car company, Better Place filed for bankruptcy on May 26, 2013— six short years after its founding by former SAP executive Shai Agassi and only one year after Better Place began commercial operation in Israel. The company filed a motion with the Lod district court for an orderly dissolution to help protect employees after depleting nearly $850 million of investment money.

In an announcement on their corporate website, Better Place’s board of directors were quoted as saying, “This is a very sad day for all of us. We stand by the original vision as formulated by Shai Agassi of creating a green alternative that would lessen our dependence on highly polluting transportation technologies.

“While he was able with partners and investors to overcome multiple challenges to demonstrate that it was possible to deliver a technological solution that would fulfil that vision. Unfortunately, the path to realizing that vision was difficult, complex and littered with obstacles, not all of which we were able to overcome. The technical challenges we overcame successfully, but the other obstacles we were not able to overcome, despite the massive effort and resources that were deployed to that end.”

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