May 30: Better Place goes to a better place

Better Place failed to understand that taking on the huge automobile industry, with all of its embedded interests and accompanying car driver culture, would require more than five years and a billion dollar investment.

May 29, 2013 22:40

Letters 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )

Better Place goes to a better place

Sir, – Yosef Abramowitz in his op-ed (“Bitter Place,” Good Energy, Business and Finance, May 28) made several valid points, as did your editorial about the bankruptcy of Better Place (“Better Place’s vision lives on,” May 28).

I would add the following points: First, on a personal level it is very liberating to drive an electric vehicle, knowing you are not polluting the air (it is estimated that 1,000 Israelis die from air pollution in Tel Aviv annually) and that you are not tethered to a gas station nor to the world price of oil.

Second, Better Place failed to understand that taking on the huge automobile industry, with all of its embedded interests and accompanying car driver culture, would require more than five years and a billion dollar investment.


Sir, – The volume of opinion being published on the reasons for Better Place’s failure, especially for me, an electric car owner, highlight just how little the company’s management, the government, and the general public worked together to make the entire enterprise succeed.

While Israel has properly been characterized as the “start-up nation,” and Better Place had a great start-up idea, the company never effectively advertised the car. Who remembers any media advertisements about it? There is not a car company in the world that sells its products without heavy advertising.

The government never helped the company, despite the fact that the project was clearly in the state’s best interest.

Why didn’t the government mandate that every single government car be an electric car? Why didn’t it provide Better Place with battery-switching stations in highly visible spots along all the major highways? That alone would have shown the Israeli public that the electric car enterprise was an easy, workable alternative to a continuing reliance on gasoline.

Instead, Better Place was forced to spend millions on switch stations which were tucked out-of-sight, providing not a trace of publicity.

Some of this failure to learn surely comes with the inherent Israeli resistance to being a frier, or sucker.

How many times did we hear, “I’ll get one after a few years when I know it works.”

Well, now it doesn’t, and while I am now the frier, the entire country will share the loss.

This was a project that should and could have worked.

And, before the bankruptcy court finishes pulling the plug on Better Place, maybe one more effort ought to be made to look for a solution.


Sir, – For the first time in a long time, Seth Frantzman has done himself proud. Even I can admit when a person whose columns I usually ignore hits the nail on the head (“The dark side of the ‘start-up nation,’” Terra Incognita, Comment and Features, May 28).

Among the many reasons for the failure of Better Place, was that too little attention was directed at the vehicle choice the company made, and the charging method employed.

The vehicle selected by Better Place to be it’s “flagship” was priced at a level far too high for the average customer, as was the monthly all-inclusive service plan.

The more intelligent choice would have been to select a smaller, and more affordable alternatively powered vehicle like the Chevrolet Volta, which allows drivers to recharge the vehicle’s battery by plugging it in overnight at home, rather than depending on a network of battery-switch stations which require a multiple array of varying payment plans.

There was – as Frantzman relates – too much boasting and hype involved, most (but not all) of it coming out of the mouth of former CEO Shai Agassi.

The principal lesson that can be learned from this enormous debacle is that over-optimism kills!

MITCHELL RADOV, Ashdot Ya’acov

Sir – Seth Frantzman calls his column “Terra Incognita,” and his piece about the failure of Better Place illustrates fully how he can at times venture to comment on areas which are indeed “uncharted territory” to him.

I’m hoping that my own personal situation, having just committed, and probably now lost, a substantial amount of money in acquiring my own Better Place car, gives me the right to challenge him.

Frantzman hides his lack of any depth of knowledge, or preparedness to actually research the subject, behind generalizations and attributions.

He demonstrates his lack of any real research into the Better Place company by simply prefixing doubtful remarks with phrases like “The company seems to have” and “According to the Atlantic...”

However, the ultimate insult comes in the paragraph where Frantzman puts the boot in, kicking the fallen body. Has he never read that start-ups fail (in reality, start-ups rarely succeed), and that the failure of one does not in any way imply unlawful, or even improper, behavior? Better Place lost money in the start-up phase. It was expected to lose money – name a single start-up that doesn’t. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent were part of a cogent plan.

What went wrong is a completely different story, but for Frantzman to offer a knee-jerk reaction, likening Better Place management to a convicted criminal organization like Enron, whose sole purpose was to cheat the financial world behind smokescreens, is hardly the mark of an honest commentator.

HENRY KAYE, Ashkelon

Sir, – The demise of Better Place is particularly unfortunate (“Electric car innovator Better Place files for bankruptcy after six years,” May 27), especially given the development of the Tamar gas field in the Mediterranean.

Israel spends more than 5% of its GDP on imported oil, and, as with most countries, that expenditure represents a significant contributor to trade imbalance, and a drag on GDP.

The Tamar field represents a source of long-term cheap power for the country, with the Israel Electric Company contracted to buy over 42 billion cubic meters of gas over the next 15 years, leading to the prospect of much lower utility costs for Israeli consumers in the future.

The increased supply of cheaper electric power is a natural fit for an electric car company.

Israel was the ideal spot for Better Place, given the limited necessary geographic range, monopolistic provider of electric power, and extremely high tariffs on imported oil.

Cheaper power will make the electric car advantage even more pronounced, and widespread acceptance has the potential to legitimately reduce oil imports, leading to a meaningful boost in the country’s balance of trade.

The continued existence and operation of Better Place (or a similar successor) is a legitimate strategic priority for the country, and if no private operator steps-up to buy the assets of the company the government should enter the fray.

The company spent a large part of its capitalization building a robust infrastructure which would be a very natural fit for a government-sponsored enterprise.

The economic and political benefits for the country make some sort of intervention a logical move.


Sir, – If the government canceled or greatly reduced the taxes on electric cars, then more people would be encouraged to buy them – particularly fleet owners. That would help the environment, and truly make Israel a “better place.”


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