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Better Place cuts Australian investment

No more: Better Place has stalled in Australia, with its Israeli head office now confirming it has turned off the investment pipeline.

EV charging company Better Place unplugs cash flow to Australian branch

General News logo7 Feb 2013

By RON HAMMERTON

THE Israeli-based management of electric vehicle charging infrastructure company Better Place has formally announced it is pulling back on further investment in its Australian arm, placing the future of the local branch deeper in doubt.

The company stopped short of saying it was withdrawing from the Australian market, saying it was “limiting any further investment in Australia beyond its current commitments”, while also shutting down its “non-core activities” in its American operation based in California’s Silicon Valley.

This effectively means Better Place Australia will have to fight for its own investment to survive.

In a statement issued from Tel Aviv overnight, Better Place indicated it would maintain some presence in Australia, saying it would “ensure that existing engagements to key partners, customers, and suppliers will be honoured”.

“Better Place retains the option to resume roll-out in these markets when circumstances permit,” the statement said.

“Better Place is committed to finding alternative arrangements for existing customers in these markets, allowing them to continue the joy of anxiety free, electric car driving.”

As GoAuto reported last week, Better Place has shifted its focus to its core markets of Israel and Denmark after racking up $US600 million ($A576m) in accumulated losses.

Better Place Australia insiders told GoAuto that the roll out of its public charging network was on hold and that almost a quarter of staff had already been laid off before Christmas.

 center imageLeft: Better Place's Japanese battery swap station.

Better Place global CEO Dan Cohen – the third boss of the company since October and replacement for Australian Evan Thornley who was in the job only four months – last night said his company believed in the long-term potential of both Australia and North America for Better Place’s operations.

He said he was enormously encouraged by the enthusiastic response from customers.

“Therefore we will keep exploring solutions which will enable us to keep our long term options with regard to those markets open,” he said.

Mr Cohen said Better Place had shown that its system worked as a concept.

“We need to prove to our customers, suppliers and investors that we have a sustainable, scalable model,” he said.

“To do so we are now focusing on realising the full potential of what we have built, and that means concentrating our resources and energy in the near term on Denmark and Israel where we have customers on the road enjoying our switching and charging networks.

“At the same time, we had to make some difficult decisions on actions to be taken elsewhere in the world (North America and Australia).”

In Australia, the RACV, Lend Lease Ventures, energy group ActewAGL and several private investors have pumped a combined $27 million into Better Place Australia, which has offices in Richmond, Victoria.

The company had planned to develop its first battery-swap station in Canberra, where it has already installed a number charging points and signed a deal with electricity supplier ActewAGL for green power.

But the battery swap station – enabling drivers of suitable cars to drive in and have a freshly charged battery installed in a matter of minutes – was never built.

The only production car capable of taking such batteries, Renault’s Fluence ZE, has been put on indefinite hold for Australian launch as a result of uncertainty over infrastructure issues, rendering such stations meaningless for the time being.

Better Place is a major partner in Melbourne EV car development start-up, EV Engineering, which was commissioned by the federal government to build a small fleet of electric-powered Holden Commodores in a proof-of-concept program also backed by several Australian car parts suppliers.

Mr Thornley, a former Victorian politician and entrepreneur, was CEO of Better Place Australia before being called up to take over the global CEO role from Better Place founder Shah Agassi.

Mr Agassi, a former SAP software executive in California’s Silicon Valley, was deposed as Better Place floundered in a sea of red ink and its global plans stalled last year.

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