The thing they said couldn't be done has happened. Silver-tongued CEO Shai Agassi has gotten many to bet the farm on his battery swapping electric car network concept. The idea is for people to own and drive electric cars with 100 mile range leased exchangeable batteries. When the battery gets low the driver pulls into a swapping station and gets a fully charged fresh battery.
Though Agassi environs the system working anywhere in the world, the first proof of concept network has been planned and developed for Israel. Finally this week, that network has opened for business.
With over $400 million so far invested in the scheme the first four battery swapping stations are operational and accepting customers. These first four stations are in central and northern Israel, and the company plans to open 40 more during the second half of the year. There will be enough well placed stations that a motorist can make the 300 mile north-south journey across the entire country.
Presently there are 140 Renault Fluence electric vehicles on the road in Israel; these are the models specifically designed for the battery swaps. They cost $32,000 a piece which is roughly comparable to similar sedans in that country. Since gas prices in Israel are at $8 per gallon, the $300-$500 per month battery leasing fee is reasonable, and allows the isolated nation non-dependent on oil from unfriendly countries.
The Fluence goes on sale to the general public this week, and there are nearly 2000 on order, mostly for fleet use. The company hopes to see about 5000 vehicles on the road within a year.
Better place is rolling out similar systems in Denmark, Australia, and Amsterdam, and small demonstration projects in Hawaii and California.
"We're driving a car that most people said would be a fantasy," said Agassi.
And so the real world experiment begins. We wish them well.