By NADAV SHEMER 02/13/2012 03:39
There are 33 battery-switch stations already in operation or close to completion around Israel.
THE FLUENCE ZE (Zero Emission) By Nadav Shemer

Better Place has unveiled its nationwide network of battery-switch stations, ahead of the scheduled commercial launch of its fleet of Renault Fluence ZE electric vehicles (EV) in the second quarter.

Thirty-three stations are already in operation or close to completion, from Metulla to Eilat. The pre-launch phase began on the fourth anniversary of Better Place’s creation on January 22, when 70 company employees and another dozen individuals received the keys to their new cars.

24 hours in the vehicle of the future

Better Place expects to support a total of 8,000-10,000 cars on Israeli and Danish roads by the end of this year. Israel and Denmark are the first two countries in which the company – the brainchild of 43-year-old Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi – is launching its fleet.

“We want to end global dependence on oil by 2020,” Agassi told reporters in Jerusalem late last week. He added that Better Place and its partner, French automaker Renault, intend to make their EV the number one vehicle in each market they enter in the next four years – starting with Israel.

“From our perspective, this is inevitable,” Agassi said. “Any gas-fuelled vehicle exiting a Renault, Fiat or General Motors production plant today… will use an average 4,000 euros [NIS 20,000] per year of gasoline over the next 20 years, or 80,000 euros [NIS 400,000] in total, and that is without taking into account erratic behavior from Iran or the Chinese.”

In the same period, Better Place customers will spend around one-quarter of that amount operating their car, he added, explaining that because the company takes full responsibility for the battery, fluctuations in the price of electricity will not change the cost to consumers.

Agassi rejected criticism that the launch was behind schedule, saying the delays could be summed up in a few words: “Form 4 – building permit applications.” Better Place initially promised the electric vehicles would hit the roads in 2011, but Agassi admitted last week that “we didn’t know anything four years ago.”

“This is something regulatory that has never happened in any other place in the world, and we are all learning. Better Place is learning, and the state is also learning how to manage the process,” he said. “Anybody who has ever done home renovations can understand what it is like to go through the process once, [but] imagine what it is like to do this simultaneously in dozens of locations on three separate continents.”

The company will have spent around $200 million (NIS 745m.) on development, “almost all of it in Israel,” by the time it completes its testing phase this year, Agassi estimated.

Better Place Israel’s pricing plan is like that of a cellphone provider, in that it sells the device – in this case an electric vehicle – and then ties customers into a monthly subscription fee based on how many kilometers they drive.

The fee includes installment of a home recharging system, unlimited battery swaps, and 24-hour roadside assistance.

The Fluence ZE (Zero Emission) is being sold for NIS 122,900. The most basic package, for 20,000 kilometers per year, costs NIS 1,090 per month, while the 30,000 kilometer package costs NIS 1,599 per month. The company says its customers will spend approximately 15 percent less to operate the car over the first four years than they would on a gas-fuelled vehicle, after the NIS 1,000 insurance subsidy is taken into account.

All vehicles come fully equipped with “Oscar,” a built-in computerized system incorporating GPS technology, battery life indicator, and multimedia player. The navigation system enables drivers to plan their route ahead in advance, and forecasts how much energy will be consumed in the journey. Drivers are led to the nearest battery switch station when their car is running low on energy.

According to the company, several hundred orders have already been made by private buyers, and several thousands have been made by clients of the three leasing companies with which Better Place has agreements – Eldan, Albar and Avis.