Battery-switching car pioneer Better Place files for bankruptcy

Better Place says wider public and car companies weren't ready to support its technology, which allows an electric car to switch battery packs in five minutes. Better Place has some 2,000 users in Israel driving a Renault Fluence ZE, the only compatible car.

Ariel Schalit/AP/File
A Better Place electric car goes through its paces in a 2010 demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel. California-based Better Place filed for bankruptcy and is shutting down, less than six years after unveiling an ambitious plan that promised to revolutionize the auto industry with battery-switching technology for electric cars.

Better Place, the electric-car service that pioneered battery swapping for passenger cars, filed for bankruptcy yesterday in Israel.

statement on the Better Place website said it had applied to a court for an orderly dissolution of the company to protect "the rights of its employees, customers and creditors."

Today is the first business day of the week in Israel.

Over its five years of existence, Better Place raised roughly $800 million in venture capital and assistance from national governments in multiple countries.

The service finally launched in Israel early last year, and since then it has attracted roughly 2,000 users.

The Better Place model required the customer to buy a vehicle--the only eligible vehicle was the 2012 Renault Fluence ZE, a mid-size sedan made in Turkey by France's Renault--but lease the battery pack from the company.

Customers paid a set fee for up to a certain number of miles (kilometers) covered a year, recharging the cars on charge stations installed at their homes and businesses by Better Place as well as on a network of public charging stations.

For longer journeys, customers would drive to the limits of their battery and then be directed to the nearest switching station, where a freshly charged battery pack would be swapped into the car by automated machinery in less than 5 minutes.

Our author Brian of London recently wrote about his experiences after one year as a Better Place customer.

Now, he has written in depth about his first reactions and his sadness at the company's demise.

In its statement, the Better Place board of directors said it stood behind the original vision of founder Shai Agassi for the network and electric-car service.

"Unfortunately, after a year’s commercial operation, it was clear to us that despite many satisfied customers, the wider public take up would not be sufficient," the statement said, "and that the support from the car producers was not forthcoming."

Details on how the closure of will be handled, how customers will be treated, and the fate of the Better Place cars are likely to emerge after the court hearing and over the coming weeks.

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