As electric car company Better Place launched a new era with the departure of
founder Shai Agassi, its new chief executive officer promised Wednesday that the
company would keep Israel at its forefront while improving customer satisfaction
and reaching out to larger business partners.
The company’s new global
CEO, Evan Thornley, was formerly the CEO of Better Place Australia, where he has
“provided a vision for what sustainable transportation looks like” in the island
continent, according to company spokesman Joe Paluska.
foremost, Thornley’s goals are to simplify customer interactions with the
company, creating “a clean line” of communication and learning from past
experiences, the CEO told journalists at the company visitors’ center and
showroom on Wednesday morning.
In addition to refining customer
relations, Thornley said he would like to expand partnerships with large
companies throughout the globe – such as those that already exist with Renault
in several countries and General Motors in Australia – and also develop a strong
sense of team within the company.
Meanwhile, although Better Place’s CEO
is no longer Israeli, the country will continue to be a pivotal model for other
states – thus far, Denmark, Australia and The Netherlands – that are developing
Better Place networks, Thornley assured journalists.
“This is the first
country in the world where you can drive around without using a big drop of
oil,” he said.
Thornley, once a parliament member, has been at Better
Place Australia since 2009, where he led the signing of Australia’s largest
clean energy deal last year with the company ActewAGL, for a Better Place car
charging network in Canberra. The new CEO also helped form the industry
consortium EV Engineering Ltd. and previously served as chairman and CEO of one
of Australia’s first companies to make it into NASDAQ.
founded Better Place in 2007, saw the launch of networks in both Israel and
Denmark earlier this year. While he was able to raise about $800 million in
capital, the company also incurred about $490m. worth of losses under his
Thornley called recent press treatment of Agassi – which
largely attributed the former CEO’s departure last week to the company’s losses
– nothing but “disgraceful.”
“I’m a friend of Shai Agassi, and I’m proud
to be a friend of Shai Agassi, and I’m immensely proud to be working in a
company that he founded,” Thornley said, noting that they were both Silicon
“This is the first time I signed on for someone else’s
vision. His vision was more compelling than anything I’ve ever come up with it,”
he continued. “He is a giant, and his impact will be felt worldwide. I assured
him we would continue that vision.”
Despite stressing upon his departure
last week that he would remain a member of the Better Place board, Agassi
resigned on Tuesday night from his board position as well, company
The company’s business strategy has
fundamentally been correct from the beginning and really “got the big things
right,” Thornley stressed, but he noted that no startup functioned without
mistakes during the onset.
One detail he said he felt could use
improvement was providing clarity to the customers and making sure they truly
understood the economic value of driving a battery- switchable electric
“We don’t do the best job explaining to our customers the value
of what we offer,” he said.
By a few years from now, he said, he hopes to
have launched an Initial Public Offering for the company, but right now he plans
just to focus on expanding Better Place’s customer base. Even though the
company’s car sales have not yet soared, the new CEO said he had high hopes for
“I’ve been through a lot of these big technological
transformations in Silicon Valley,” he said. “They usually happen a little later
than you think, and they usually happen a lot bigger than you think.”
electric vehicle will increasingly become an easy pitch to investors, according
“It is inevitable that electric cars will get cheaper, and
driving on gasoline will get more expensive,” he said.
As far as
maintaining Better Place as a clean transportation alternative, he said he felt
it would be important for the company to sign long-term agreements with
renewable energy developers, like the company has already done in
“I’m sure if there are generators or potential generators who
are looking for long-term customers for their clean energy, that would be an
attractive proposition that we would support,” he said.
Not only will
Israel remain Better Place’s central location – at least for the time being – it
has also become an important place to Thornley himself, who said he was
converting to Judaism and had been to the country 27 times in the past four
“I expect I’ll spend more time in Israel than any other single
location, because a large part of our team is here,” he said.
he expects the customer bases to grow in larger countries such as The
Netherlands and Australia, and as such, “you have to be where your customers
are,” he explained. That being said, he added, Israel will always remain at the
“Israel is out in front, and Israel by definition will
always be out in front,” he said. “We started earlier here, and we’ve learned
the most from here.”