Electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place has a unique business model: Better Place and GE-branded EV charging stations let
drivers power up both at home and at work. When drivers don’t have hours to charge up, gas station-like battery
switch stations that dot the highways allow them to take long trips with only quick stops for charging. The whole package is available for a monthly subscription fee.
But the whole package doesn’t quite exist yet. So far, there is only one vehicle that is compatible with the switch stations–the Renault Fluence Z.E, which will go into limited release in Israel and Denmark next year. Better Place has, however, still been growing since its launch, albeit slowly and in select markets. Even without the Renault, subscribers can still use an electric car and access all of the charging stations. And now Better Place has announced plans to bring the Fluence Z.E. to Australia in 2012.
Why Australia? Better Place spokesperson Julie Mullins explains in an email that it is a region where people drive a lot, pay high prices for gas, and drive inefficient vehicles. The majority of the population is also centered around five urban areas, “so it’s a matter of building out each of these urban
centers and covering the connecting highways with switch stations.”
Denmark and Israel also have expensive cars and gasoline compared to the U.S. (so stop complaining); that’s why Better Place is launching in these countries first. It’s also easier for Better Place to get an infrastructure up in countries with fewer major metropolitan areas. In Israel–a country that is not much larger than New Jersey–Better Place’s infrastructure is estimated to cost just $200 million.
The company anticipates bringing the largest electric car charging network in the world to Australia by 2013. We imagine that won’t be as cheap.
It’s hard to say whether Better Place will ultimately succeed in its battery switch station quest. Part of the company’s success relies on automakers’ willingness to make compatible cars. Mullins explained to us recently that Better Place is working on “a toolkit/adapter in our
battery switch stations that can anticipate and supply different battery
types for different vehicles with different battery-to-vehicle
connection mechanisms.” But in the meantime, customers only have one vehicle option–and that’s a limiting factor in any country.