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CEO of Electric-Car Network Better Place Steps Down

TEL AVIV—Shai Agassi, the charismatic founder of U.S. electric-car charging station start-up Better Place LLC, stepped aside as chief executive amid concern about mounting losses as cars tailored to the company’s network enter pilot markets.

In a surprise announcement Tuesday, nearly five years after the company’s founding, Better Place Chairman Idan Ofer said the CEO of the firm’s Australian unit, Evan Thornley, will replace Mr. Agassi so the company can “realign for its second chapter.”

Mr. Agassi couldn’t be reached to comment.

Mr. Agassi, who will remain on the Better Place board, is an Israeli-born, Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has been the public face of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Better Place from its inception. He raised $750 million from venture investors and sold top politicians on a vision to phase out petroleum-burning cars with a battery-powered vehicle that relies on a network of fuel cell switching stations.

He joined forces with France’s Renault SA, RNO.FR -0.75% which currently is the only auto maker to manufacture a car model—the Fluence ZE—that runs on the switchable batteries provided by Better Place. Better Place provides the charge spots, network of battery switch stations, and customer service. The Fluence ZE began arriving in test markets in Israel and Denmark during the second quarter. Renault sells the electric car in Denmark, and Better Place sells the car in Israel.

Mr. Agassi’s departure as chief executive would follow a pattern among other start-ups in which founders are replaced at the helm by managers in order to oversee growth.

“It’s part of the business school literature: a transition from an entrepreneur manager to a business manager,” said John O’Dell, an editor at, a provider of research on the automotive industry.

“The vision is established, and now they need a hard-nosed manager to manage the thing, to make the business ties, and do the selling,” he said.

Mr. O’Dell added that enthusiasm for electricity-fueled cars has cooled in the U.S. in recent years.


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