Saturday, October 13, 2012

Better Place

Recently Better Place founder and CEO Shai Agassi was ousted as the CEO of the company. The company's goal was battery swap stations that would allow EVs to extend their range in 5 minutes.

This is a stunning development to me. I felt confident that Better Place had the right idea, but unfortunately maybe a bit too soon.

They were able to get the company off the ground in Israel and Denmark but the sheer cost of starting up along with the shaky state of financial affairs in Europe may have played a part in the decision to seek new direction for the company.

He was able to pitch the idea well enough to get enough backing to get started having raised about 750 million but that is not enough to put up the swap stations and supply the battery packs because;

**economy of scale;  there is several battery pack manufacturers out there, but there still seems to be a shortage everywhere. Nissan addresses that shortage by building their own battery plant eliminating the need to rely on a 3rd party vendor but that plant has only been running a few weeks. This applies to EVs in general leading to...

** Choices;  21 months after the LEAF was released, it is still the best choice (only choice really)  for someone in my position (iow, VERY  middle class)  that will hamper the EV market. But no single product appeals to everyone.  People want choices and on the surface, we seem to have them. a dozen options out there but is there really?  Ford will put out a few thousand of the Focus EVs along with Toyota, Honda and several others but in 2-3 years time!!  IOW;  the average consumer will not likely be exposed to a vehicle which such a limited release. if not for California (the largest car market in the World) requiring a portion of each auto manufacturers offerings to be zero emmission plug ins, there is significant doubt that these manufacturers would be in the EV game at all. therefore most haved dubbed these very low volume EVs as "compliance cars"

**Battery Cost;  Despite our grandest hopes, limited production and capacity have still kept battery prices high. That should change but when??  Nearly every week theres is a news story about a new innovation in battery technology. its beginning to sound like repackaged Christmas hype of decades old products; "Bigger, Faster, Smaller, Lighter," etc.   But as always, the actual product just seems to be 2-3 years away just like they were 2-3 years ago.  Nissan has been leaking out information on range improvements hinting those improvement "could be" a result of battery improvements and most were anticipating getting the real info in a few months for the 2013 model but now, other rumors are saying any chemistry changes will not be seen until Fall 2013 for the 2014 MY, so once again; another delay

**Support;  There will always be a raging debate over how much support Big Oil receives simply because Big Oil can afford to throw money at the engine of misinformation.  This complicates the matter and places doubt and only the teeny tinest amount of doubt is all that is needed to kill any groundswell of support for competing transportation technologies.  EVs have had very little support and what support they do offer is of questionable value to many potential EV owners.  the $7500 tax credit is only good for those who have that much tax liability. What about retired people? most of whom have scaled back a lot of their transportation demands to the point where a 75 mile EV would be ideal for them?  Change that $7500 to an instant rebate and let the dealership take care of getting the money! more on this later.

What really gets me is that the EV program must somehow be worthy or profitable but what measure of "worthy" are we going to use? is EV support money wasted as many seem to think?  Amtrak lost a billion dollars last year and received 1.42 Billion from Uncle Sam to keep its doors open. Should be dump them because they are a money loser?  they provided a benefit to over 30 million people last year, most of them probably tax payers.  Most would say that Amtrak is a VERY regional benefit so why should CA residents help support Amtrak where ridership is weak?  Why cant the Eastern Seaboard pay for it where ridership is strong ?(and Amtrak IS profitable)  Well, the East does pay for a greater share of the support thru ticket purchases and keep in mind; what is the impact were Amtrak not there? Greyhound might like that but most likely just be a lot more cars, a lot more traffic, a lot more lost time sitting in the middle of a packed concrete ribbon...

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