Better Place Not Too Big to Fail

Now that Fisker, Coda and Project Better Place have failed, a lot of people are writing with the perfect clarity of hindsight about why they failed. Of course many people thought Toyota’s Prius would fail, too.

I don’t know much about Fisker or Coda, but with Better Place, it seemed to me that Shai Agassi was trying to build long term infrastructure around the least standard and most rapidly changing aspect of electric vehicles – the batteries.

Exceeding your battery’s range without a long recharge session is the holy grail of electric vehicles. Agassi expected that Better Place’s AutOS-coordinated network of battery swap stations would be as convenient as having a gasoline filling station every few miles – but liquid fuels evolved slowly. What was sold never had to be recycled because it was burned in the engine. No one brought old, used gasoline back to to a filling station. There were only a few grades of gasoline, and all engines were built to use one or more of them. Any entrepreneur could open a filling station and it fit into the network.

With EVs, every maker has their own battery, and they don’t make them easy to remove. Only Renault signed on to meet the BP standard. It would have been a great idea if a majority of EV makers had been on-board – but they weren’t. Even worse, according to Nili Brand, Agassi’s wife, was dealing with Israeli bureaucracy.

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