Sunday, February 7, 2010

Better Place Preps for Israel Launch: Partners, Demo Center

Electric vehicle infrastructure company Better Place has a lot of work to do before it commercially launches its first networks of battery swap and charging stations in Israel and Denmark next year. But this weekend the company took a couple steps forward in Israel. First, Better Place announced the opening of a slick demonstration center in Israel built on top of a gasoline storage and distribution center, inside a refurbished oil tank (see photos). The company also announced partnerships with gas station operator Dor Alon and additional corporate customers that have pledged to swap portions of their fleets with Renault electric vehicles next year.
As you can see from the photos the demo center is pretty swanky. It’s meant to be used as outreach for both potential Israeli customers, as well as international visitors, and features a multi-media center, a driving track, and will eventually have demos of the Renault Fluence.

In terms of the partnerships, Better Place says it plans to install battery swap stations at outlets owned by Dor Alon, one of the biggest gas station operators in Israel with 170 public retail outlets across the region. We’re waiting to hear back on how many of Dor Alon’s outlets will get the battery swap technology (Update: Better Place says they’re still finalizing deal). Better Place also says it’s boosted the number of corporate fleet partners in Israel, like Motorola and Computer Associates, to 92 companies, which have a collective total of 45,000 fleet vehicles. We’re also waiting to hear back on what percentage of that fleet will get swapped out for electric vehicles. (Update: No specifics offered on this either).

All of this prep work is needed to make the Better Place proposal attractive to Israel customers. The big question for 2011 will be, once the first Better Place network is launched commercially in Israel, will customers sign up?
One thing that next year’s launch will need is much more marketing, particularly because the Fluence will have just gone on sale. But Better Place does have that recently-raised whopping $350 million in funding — which was one of the largest rounds raised for cleantech ever — to help with the launch. And Better Place has now raised about $750 million. The funding is massive, but so are the stakes — if Better Place doesn’t work in Israel, it might not work anywhere.

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