Electric car battery swapping startup Better Place files for bankruptcy

Better Place electric cars charging
CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia

Is EV battery swapping dying?

Better Place aimed very high, trying to make real the vision of a world where depleted electric car batteries could be swapped rapidly for fully charged ones. The task apparently proved too difficult for the startup: After burning through about $850 million of private investor money, it couldn't raise money anymore and had to file for bankruptcy. This follows the departure last fall of ex-CEO and company founder Shai Agassi, the man who was most closely associated with battery swapping.

“This is a very sad day, on which our efforts to realize a universal vision to cut energy dependence on pollutants failed,” the Better Place board of directors said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the path toward realizing that vision proved difficult and we encountered many obstacles… [with the] technical aspect we were successful, elsewhere we were not, despite the investment of tremendous effort and resources.” (source)

Bankruptcy is not always the end, but in this case, it could be. This is a very capital-intensive idea that needs support from automakers and possibly from governments. It doesn't seem to have it, and it is estimated that the company would need about 4 more years and another half billion dollars to get to break even (and who knows if they'd get there even with those)...

The bankruptcy of SunTech, the world's largest maker of solar cells, won't slow down the solar industry. There are tons of other solar companies, and SunTech's assets will be useful to someone. But Better Place's bankruptcy could be the final nail in the coffin of battery swapping, as there aren't many others doing this, and if it couldn't be done with all the resources that they had, smaller startups probably won't succeed either.

Personally, I never was that excited about battery swapping. It seemed like fast chargers could do a good enough job (as Tesla has shown with its Supercharger stations), especially as batteries get better over time at handling a lot of current, and that the complexity required to have a robotized battery swapping network large enough to make it useful for drivers would be a fertile playground for Murphy's Law.

But it was still worth trying, and it might yet succeed, though maybe not as initially planned. It could see battery swapping work with long-haul trucks. There's fewer of them than passenger vehicles, and they could be more easily standardized. Special truck stops could swap batteries almost around the clock for fleet trucks...

better place ev electric car battery swap photo

Via Better Place, Times of Israel

See also: Chevrolet Spark EV to be priced $27,495 with lease starting at $199/month (119 MPGe!)

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