In a move which has surprised many in the electric vehicle market, battery swapping services company Better Place called in liquidators yesterday after experiencing trading difficulties. The business was launched in a blaze of glory and has raised $850 million in total, although after just 12 months of commercial operations the end seems nigh. The company, which is based in Israel, has filed for a dissolution of the company and is looking to appoint a temporary liquidator.
This comes after the company undertook some significant changes to the way it operates and it would appear that further investment had been sought. Once it became clear that this additional investment would not be forthcoming, the parent company to Better Place was effectively forced to take action.
What services did Better Place offer?
After announcing a deal with Renault to install battery swapping technology into the Renault Fluence ZE EV, it seemed that the company would go from strength to strength. The car giant agreed to offer an array of after sales services which would incorporate the battery swapping activities of Better Place. Despite the fact that the company has made great progress on its battery swapping technology, and the idea seemed solid in principle, one of the main issues seems to have been disappointing sales for the Renault Fluence ZE EV and Renault's reluctance to install battery swapping technology on its new electric vehicle releases.
Quote from ElectricForum.com : "10 July 2008 | Denmark looks set to become the second nation to persuade drivers to switch to electric motoring, writes Maurice Glover. Following the deal signed earlier this year with Israel, Renault-Nissan and infrastructure provider Project Better Place are now discussing the supply of electric cars and support systems with Danish government officials."
Whether or not time will show that Better Place was beaten by the market and effectively too early with its individual service offering remains to be seen. While this is a short-term body blow for the electric vehicle industry, indications from within the company show this may not be the end.
There has been unconfirmed interest from "India and China" with regards to the company's technology, assets and operations. It will be interesting to see whether any companies do step forward with an offer for the assets and effectively bring this very interesting service back to life.
One of the major factors holding back the electric vehicle industry has been the time taken to recharge batteries, journey capacity itself and customer satisfaction. Despite the fact that Better Place has been forced to close its operations there are many who still believe that battery swapping facilities do have a part to play in the development of the electric vehicle market in the short, medium and longer term. It may well depend upon whether electric vehicle manufacturers are willing and able to incorporate such battery swapping technology into their future models and indeed whether electric vehicle sales do rise in the short term.
The very fact that Better Place was able to raise $850 million during its relatively short lifespan shows that there was initial appetite for the idea and the technology. It seems as though the reluctance of Renault to roll out the battery swapping technology beyond the Renault Fluence ZE EV was a body blow, as was the disappointing sales of electric vehicles overall.
Sceptics will use the demise of Better Place as a means of knocking yet another nail into the coffin of electric vehicles. While in reality this is a short-term setback, the medium to long term future of electric vehicles remains unchanged.