Financially speaking, electric cars are a tough sell in today’s economic climate. The handful of pure-electric cars for sale right now, like the Tesla Roadster, cost more than most people gross in two years of work. Even when you apply generous federal and state tax incentives, like those in Colorado, most of us simply can’t afford an electric car right now. With time, prices will come down, but how long must we wait for an affordable electric car that actually looks like a car?
If Better Place’s plan works, a true electric car could hit the West Coast of the U.S. as soon as 2012 for $20,000 or less before any tax incentives are applied.
Better Place has a simple plan; sell the consumer a car, but keep the battery. Batteries are the Achilles heel of electric cars right now. They cost a lot of money, take a long time to charge (compared with filling a gas tank), and they are expensive. By removing the cost of the battery from the equation, Better Place believes they can sell EVs for $20,000 or less.
From there, Better Place assumes the role of your mileage dealer via a network of home charging stations and robotic battery swapping stations. You pay Better Place for the electricity to charge your car, simple as that. Your car purchase comes with a contract, and Better Place takes care of the battery. This isn’t unlike the suggestion that Nissan (which is currently allied with Renault) may lease out the battery on their compact LEAF all-electric car, due out sometime in the next year. Interestingly, Nissan-Renault’s global EV chief recently remarked to Gas 2.0 that battery swapping will likely not work in the United States.
Better Place already has contracts in place in both Denmark and Israel to provide 100,000 electric cars, and has since installed 1,000 EV charging stations around Israel and 100 in the Danish capital of Copenhagen. Next year, they will install the first battery-swapping station in Tokyo to test the feasibility of their swapping concept. If Better Place is to actually continue a relationship with the Renault-Nissan Alliance in the US, the Nissan part of that partnership would have to use the technology developed for Renault in other countries.
Personally, I like the idea of owning every part of my car, and the idea of being under contract to my car dealer isn’t all that appealing. Such a contract would no doubt carry stipulations and dozens of ways to void your warranty, and what happens if Better Place’s plan doesn’t quite work out? Are you left with a $20,000 paper weight?
But maybe that is me just being paranoid. I tend to do that.