Shai Agassi

14 November 2011 – General Electric and global banking group UBS has tipped US$200 million into Shai Agassi’s Better Place, the electric car charge company on the verge of gaining a significant foothold in Australia.

With the launch of the first nationwide electric car networks in Israel and Denmark just months away, the company said it had secured the funds through  Series C equity financing from a consortium of top-tier investors and partners, nearly doubling the company’s valuation to $US2.25 billion since the last financing in January 2010.

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Since its founding in 2007, Better Place has raised more than $US750 million of equity financing globally in an economic climate where investors continue to seek a competitive alternative to oil, the company pointed out.

Better Place will use the proceeds to expand into Western Europe while it continues to advance the company’s deployment projects in Northern California, Southern China, Japan, Ontario, Canada, and Hawaii.

The company will launch its initial commercial service in Israel and Denmark early next year and has already announced a series of consumer offerings for electric mobility services that are competitive with gasoline-based cars.

Better Place will begin initial commercial service in the second quarter of 2012 in Australia, starting in Canberra.

“We’ve worked hard over the past four years to engineer and build a technology solution that competes with oil-based transportation,” said Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive officer, Better Place.

“We are entering the next phase of growth for our company where we prove that our solution works, that it’s in demand, and that it scales, as we begin to push into new markets and attract new investors and new partners.

The Series C financing transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2011.

“With this round, our shareholder base now includes the world’s largest banks, blue chip asset managers and leading industrial holding companies,” said Idan Ofer, Better Place’s chairman.

The company, which has more than 100 employees in Europe, will leverage its Danish operations, its European Commission-approved projects, and its market-leading ecosystem of partners as the building blocks for expanding into Western Europe. In September, Better Place opened an office in Paris as its European headquarters

The World Economic Forum has named Better Place a “global growth company industry shaper” for its innovative approach in advancing the global switch to electric cars. See www.betterplace.com

An article in Climate Spectator, says the impending Better Place launch comes amid fierce debate in motoring circles and elsewhere about the prospects for the electric car market, with some recent analyses suggesting a slower-than-expected uptake because of cost. The publication said:

“The recent International Energy Agency outlook said the passenger car market would likely double by 2035, but alternative technologies, such as hybrid and EVs, will take time to penetrate markets. (However, it said sales of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs would need to be three quarters of passenger and commercial vehicle sales in 2035, if the world was to meet its 2°C climate targets with a delayed policy response).

Evan Thornley, the CEO of Better Place Australia, says the company agrees that EVs will not take off until it is demonstrated that they are convenient and affordable. “To make it affordable we will spread the cost over the life of the battery,” he says. “To make it convenient we make a charge network. That is the difficult part. …But that is why Better Place exists.”

The basic proposition of the Better Place business model is to turn the road transport sector on its head – from a system based on recurrent cost, to one based on capital cost. It is couched within the two emerging themes of rising fuel prices and a drive to lower emissions. Thornley says it is this potential emergence of a new asset class that has attracted the likes of GE, which has a massive finance unit, and banks such as UBS, Morgan Stanley, and HSBC, who all have equity investments.

In Australia, suggests Thornley, a $37 billion-a-year petrol industry will be gradually replaced by tens of billions of dollars in battery investments, all of which will be financed by banks. “That is a massive opportunity,” he says. “Everyone has good right to be sceptical, particularly with something like Better Place that sounds so transformative, and people find that so confronting.”

Indeed they do. As the Cleantech 100 survey revealed, Better Place’s business model is the most polarising clean technology, with enthusiastic support and its deep-pocketed backers on one side, and detractors saying its business model is at risk of becoming obsolete by the time it matures on the other. Greentech Media agreed it was the most controversial company in green technology, and that opinions were divided over Agassi: “Visionary leader or a chick magnet with a PowerPoint?”

The controversy lies over whether Better Place can, in fact, deliver EVs at a lower “lifecycle” cost than internal combustion engines. In Israel, the battery switchable Renault Fluence is being sold for $33,100, with monthly subscription priced at $350 for an annual 23,000km package, or up to $430 for a 30,000km package. In Denmark, according to Greentech Media, five-year ownership would cost $US27,496 for the car plus $US23,490 in a low-mileage subscription.

Read the whole story https://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/whos-backing-better-place