Roll out: A fleet of 100 Renault Fluence electric cars arriving in Israel last week.
In four years, the electric-car company Better Place has traveled from startup to starting line. Last week, a fleet of 100 electrically powered Renault Fluence ZE sedans set out in a caravan along Israeli highways, signaling the start of the company’s efforts to reach a wide swath of consumers.
The cars are fueled by 225-kilogram lithium-ion batteries with a range of 160 kilometers. The batteries can be recharged at home or swapped for fully charged ones at a network of robotic battery-switching stations that Better Place has built throughout Israel to let owners extend their cars’ range.
The switching stations, plus apps that guide a driver to them, are what make Better Place’s business unique. In Israel, gas is expensive, and there are also high taxes on gasoline-powered cars, making electric vehicles more attractive.
Agassi predicts that by next year, electric cars will be the best-selling vehicles in both Israel and Denmark. Those, along with Australia, are the nations where the service is being launched this year.
The 100 new cars that took the road last week are all for Better Place employees, although a company spokesman says employees will pay to lease them just “like everyone else.” About 70 cars were on the road already.
The Fluence ZE (for zero emissions) is a pleasure to drive. Smooth and silent, the car glides easily past the speed limit on Israel’s fastest highways. Its navigation system can provide directions to the nearest battery-switching station at any time.
Better Place has won some important endorsements for its business model, which remains largely unchanged since the company was founded in 2008. Last November, it raised $200 million from investors, bringing the total it has raised to around $750 million. The company is now valued at approximately $2.25 billion.