Got an Electric Car? Better Call the Israel Electric Corp, Fast

Court rules Better Place cars stuck at the dock can be sold. But, you can't actually run it unless you sign up with the Electric Corp.

Future Better Place buyers were given good news, and bad news, on Wednesday. The good news came from the Supreme Court, which allowed the electric cars in Better Place’s stock stuck in limbo at the docks to be sold. The bad news is that if you buy a car, you'd better call the Israel Electric Corporation right away because otherwise, you can't charge the machine.

The 359 cars under discussion are almost all sitting on the docks of Ashdod Port, though there are still some sitting at the Renault factory in Turkey. The Transportation Ministry won't let DriiVZ, the company’s management group, to release the cars from customs because Better Place’s import license has been put on hold.

The issue is partly academic: as the the Better Place saga has dragged on for a year since the cars' manufacture, the cars are no longer this year’s model. According to Israeli transportation regulations, they cannot therefore be sold in the country: the only options are either to send them straight to the junkyard or export them.

But the regulations also say that the Transportation Ministry may issue an exemption, and yesterday the Supreme Court ordered the ministry to do just that, because “Accepting the Transportation Ministry’s position… would mean eliminating any chance of finding a buyer for the company and its assets.”

To avoid misleading consumers, the court ruled that the cars’ year of manufacture would be explained to potential buyers who, if deciding to buy, would have to confirm in writing that they had been informed. In addition, the vehicle safety officer would have to confirm the cars are in good working order.

It is unclear whether Better Place will be listed as the cars’ initial owners or if the cars will be sold as new. In the past, the retail cost was going to be set at about NIS 80,000 and under, a relatively inexpensive sticker price for a family sedan.

However, the bad news is that the Israel Electric Corp. said last week that it's going to dismantle the Better Place charging stations. Owners of the fully-electric cars may sign up directly with it, the company reassured - but they had better act fast. . The IEC claims that Better Place owes it money and its debt just continues to grow: none of the company's owners paid the electricity consumed to date, the IEC says

Electric car owners may contact the IEC by Tuesday, October 29, 2013, and register as electric company customers. Their payments will from now on go to IEC rather than the liquidators of Better Place. The gauge connected to the charging stations will now be registered to the customers; those who choose not to register with the electric company will no longer be able to charge their batteries.

Better Place’s battery exchange stations have been inactive since last week and will remain so until a new buyer is found for the company’s last remaining shreds. The battery exchange stations are very expensive to run, and it is not clear if the future buyer will be required to operate them.

Better Place had been the brainchild of Shai Agassi, an Israeli entrepreneur who had risen high in the German multinational corporation SAP, but left it to launch the green-minded electric car endeavor. But even generous backing from the Israel Corporation couldn't get the company over the problems in its business model. Agassi resigned in  October 2012 Better Place was declared bankrupt in May 2013.

Reuters