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Isreal: Car battery swapping in Israel

Better Place is set to launch an audacious electric car option: buy the vehicle but lease the battery, and pay for ‘electric miles’ like you would a cellphone contract. Today Israel and Denmark; tomorrow the world.

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Car battery swapping in Israel
Better Place is set to launch an audacious electric car option: buy the vehicle but lease the battery, and pay for ‘electric miles’ like you would a cellphone contract. Today Israel and Denmark; tomorrow the world.
Wed, May 09 2012 at 11:37 AM EST

FIVE-MINUTE SWAP: A Fluence goes through Better Place battery switching. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — Ever driven through a car wash? Well, hold that thought, because going through a Better Place battery-switching station is almost exactly like that — minus the soap suds, of course.

You may have heard of Better Place (BP). It’s the California-based company, founded by the Israeli-born Shai Agassi in 2007, that has made its mission not only to wire the world for electric cars, but to do it with a unique twist — battery swapping. The concept is simple enough: Instead of relying solely on charging stations that take six hours or so to juice up an EV, the company adds the option of swapping the battery in an automated process that takes about five minutes.

Instead of buying a battery car and then figuring out how to charge it — public stations, home unit? — BP is a one-stop transportation solution. In Israel, customers buy “electric miles,” paying BP roughly $32,000 for the car (the Israeli price) than leasing the battery and a charging plan that gives them access to the company’s public network and the swap stations. It may not work this way, but the general rule of thumb is that you’d use home or public charging for commuting and errands, battery swapping for longer trips.

Agassi, a former software executive, is one of the world’s great talkers, and taking his message around the globe has helped the company raise $750 million to date, with early support from heavyweights Bill Clinton and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Talking will only get you so far, but this week in Israel, BP was showing off not only its network of about 40 swap stations but also giving rides in the Renault Fluence Z.E. (right), a version of a popular car here that was custom-made for BP with swappable batteries. It’s on sale now, though BP hasn’t yet started its major marketing push in Israel.

Agassi stopped by on his way to a business meeting in New York, and admitted straight off that he’d forgotten to plug in his Fluence Z.E. the night before. “But it was no problem, because I drove to Jerusalem and swapped the battery at the station there. We’ve made an electric car more convenient than a gas car.” (Maybe he forgot to plug in on purpose?)
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