Better Place Collapse Leaves Customers Stranded

Calling themselves 'the chief victims of the company’s collapse,' a group of Better Place customers asks the court to allow the temporary liquidator to operate the company indefinitely and explore options.

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A day after Better Place asked a court to wind up its operations, drivers of the approximately 900 cars plying Israeli roads and using its recharging and battery-swapping services were still unclear Monday what would happen to their vehicles.

Gilles Normand, Asia-Pacific director for Renault, Better Place’s partner in the electric vehicle venture, was due to arrive in Israel to meet with employees and try to come up with a solution for stranded car owners.

Among other problems to be ironed out is that the French automaker holds liens on the batteries inside the cars.

In Denmark, the other country where Better Place had operations, Renault told car owners they could rent the batteries but the company would not operate battery-switching mechanisms for them, meaning drivers would be able to travel no more than 120 kilometers on a single drive.

But there are differences between how Better Place’s operations were structured in the two countries: In Denmark, Renault sold the Fluence model, with Better Place operating switching stations. In Israel, the company also imported and sold the cars.

For now, Renault said it would provide Israeli drivers with after-sales support, including service, repairs and batteries.

The liquidator cometh

Meanwhile, Lod District Court is expected to appoint a temporary liquidator for the company Tuesday, a move that would begin the process of sorting out the affairs of the failed electric-vehicle

Calling themselves “the chief victims of the company’s collapse,” a group of Better Place customers on Monday asked the court to allow the temporary liquidator to operate the company indefinitely and explore the options, given Better Place’s “special character” to examine whether the government would step in to finance its operations.

Better Place and its founder and first CEO, Shai Agassi, had ambitious plans to replace gasoline-powered vehicles with cars powered by batteries that would allow unlimited driving ranges aided by a network of recharging and battery-changing stations.

But the company failed to sell many cars and ran through more than $800 million in capital provided by investors led by The Israel Corporation.

On Sunday, Israel Corporation said the backers would provide no more funding, putting an end to the company after six years of operations.

Nevertheless, Renault said Monday that Better Place’s collapse would not hold back its plans for battery-powered vehicles.

Better Place represents not much more than 1% of the alliance’s total electric vehicle volumes, noted Normand. “Which means that it’s not at all a case of bringing our electric strategy into question,” he said.

He added that the “quick drop” technology developed by Renault for Better Place represented only “an extremely limited part” of the $5.2 billion that the alliance planned to invest in electric

Pulled the plug: An electric car belonging to Better Place, which filed for bankruptcy on Sunday. Credit: Reuters

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