Op-Ed: Don’t Judge the Electric Vehicle Industry Based on the Failure of Better Place

4 years ago by Eric Loveday 4

The Concept Was Simple Enough.  The Implementation...Not So Much...But This Has No IMpact on the EV Industry as a Whole

The Concept Was Simple Enough. The Implementation…Not So Much…But This Has No IMpact on the EV Industry as a Whole

Better Place is not an automaker, so don’t judge the automotive industry based on the battery-swap specialist’s failure.

Only the Fluence is Impacted by Better Place's Failure

Only the Fluence is Impacted by Better Place’s Failure

We’ve seen far too many headlines lately that tie the failure of Better Place into the eventual demise of the electric vehicle.  They’re wrong.  It just doesn’t work that way.

Better Place’s battery-swapping theory was sound, but implementation of the scheme was flawed from the get go.

There was simply no way that one company (Better Place) would be able to convince the world that battery swapping would be feasible on a grand scale.  Better Place did manage to mildly convince Renault that the swapping might work, but even at that, Renault was only willing to commit one vehicle to the cause.

Better Place will soon end all of its operations and battery swapping will die off for now.  The swap idea may spring back to life at some point in the future, but only if several automakers are in some way on board.

We repeat, Better Place is not an automaker, so don’t judge the automotive industry based upon its failure.  That’s not the way it works.  If it did function in that sort of way, then we could have assumed that the failure of Betamax meant the end of movies.  It simply makes no sense.

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4 responses to "Op-Ed: Don’t Judge the Electric Vehicle Industry Based on the Failure of Better Place"

  1. evnow says:

    I thought battery swapping gets revived on June 20th ?

  2. Anon says:

    I hope it’s not physical swappin’ Elon’s gonna demo… But the Model S pack is designed to be serviced by dropping it out the bottom of the car, rather easily. 😛

  3. Electric Ray says:

    I really believe battery swapping will be the ultimate endgame in 20 years or so. Suitcase sized battery packs with standardized dimensions, connectors, etc. Maybe gigantic wafer shapes; follow the cell phone evolution from brick to cylindrical to tiny cards. Cost is lower, always have the latest technology…what’s not to love?

  4. Assaf says:

    Here’s a more detailed post-mortem on Better Place and a discussion of switchable batteries:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/06/06/1214105/-Better-Place-Goes-Belly-Up-But-Is-the-Switchable-Battery-EV-still-Alive

    I agree with John Gartner (quoted in that post) that in the long run, battery-swapping is best for the niche market of taxis, local-delivery vehicles, etc.

    For consumer cars, it was never more than a temporary stop-gap measure that will expire once the affordable EVs can go 2 hours on the highway between charges. They can already go 1-1.5 hours, and the Tesla S has demonstrated it’s possible, it can go 3-4 hours.
    After 2 hours one can stop for a meal or snack break, and meanwhile fast-charge. This means that the affordable EVs will be able to meet the needs of most families, 360+ days a year. No pressing need for battery swaps.

    All the switchable-battery idea did was exchange one anxiety (range) with several others (technological headache, fistfights with unwilling carmakers, and a huge cost overhead), which translated into consumer and fleet-manager anxiety about the company’s reliability and obsolescence. Their swapping stations had cost $2-3 million to build, instead of the promised half-million.

    It might take long, or never, before EVs can do the 1000-miles-a-day road trip. But you don’t build a mass-market car for that very rare occasion. In fact, that’s precisely the EV’s market advantage, that it is really much more compatible with the needs and daily routine of most of today’s humanity than the gas car.

    Maybe at some point down the road, if battery sizing becomes really easy standardized and cheap, one can envision a modular partial swapping (so instead of one big battery you will have several modular ones, or something like that).

    As to Better Place itself, it was truly atrociously run – from an ethical perspective as well – from day one. Here’s a pre-mortem written 9 months ago when their founder CEO was sacked:
    http://theonlydemocracy.org/2012/10/how-not-to-introduce-new-green-tech-the-cautionary-tale-of-better-place/