I Went To A Better Place And Returned A Changed Man

I drove an electric car with a swappable battery last night at Better Place and it was pretty good. No, it was better than that, I’m really thinking about buying one! Gee, if only someone would come up with a smart phone whose battery you could easily swap out when it went flat! Wouldn’t that be cool? Of course, this is just another fine Israeli innovation that the bigoted BDS’ers will have to boycott: save the world or condemn Israel, that should cause them more sleepless nights!

As anyone who used to listen to the old Shire Network News podcast might remember, I’m not really a believer in anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Here’s what Melanie Phillips said in her book about people just like me

All those who do question manmade global warming are generally reviled as either corrupt or insane. To appear on a platform sponsored by the oil industry leads to vilification as a stooge of Big Oil. Assertions inimical to science, such as the claim that “the argument is over” or that global warming is the belief of a scientific consensus, are deployed to stifle dissent. But in science, no argument is ever over. Any consensus on AGW—such as it is—has been created through intimidating all challengers.

The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power (pp. 113-114).

So if you think I’m going to rush out and buy a Prius in some desperate bid to save the polar bears, think again.

However, I do subscribe to the view that the greatest danger facing mankind is the encroachment into the lives of those who don’t want it of Islam, cheer led by their useful idiots on the Progressive left (and even right). And that little danger is funded, to a huge degree, the petrol and gasoline we put in our cars.

Roughly half of all crude oil goes to fuel road transport. Which is to say that if we could cut that number down, we could deal a mortal blow to the likes of OPEC and their lackeys in the Big Oil companies who run the world’s largest tolerated cartel. There is one simple thing that would totally re-set the ballance of power from where it is now with the suppliers to where it should be, with the consumers: cut down our use of crude oil derived fuels for private transportation.There are a few ways we can do this:

  • more efficient cars;
  • different liquid fuels;
  • different drive systems powered by liquid fuels;
  • completely electric cars.

Now the Prius sucks: not only is stupid looking, slow and holier than though, the combination of two completely different drive technologies gives it double the complexity of a regular car with very little benefit. My Honda Civic today is highly efficient and in real life does not use dramatically more fuel than a Prius so what’s the big deal?

I am quite a strong believer in opening up all petrol cars to run on a variety of fuels such as ethanol, methanol and petrol all at the same time and in any combination. This is technically possible but very few cars are capable of this trick today. It’s not that I’m in favour of burning our food, or grossly subsidised production of fuel from food, but of creating the basis for a market by making sure the cars can use whatever fuel is best for the locale and the geopolitical conditions of the day. There is a book about this if you’re interested: Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil.

Which leads us to fully electric vehicles. The problem with these is that batteries today suck. The very best batteries are LiON and these are used in all our gadgets, gizmos and laptops. But they’re very expensive and there’s also some controversy about their flammability if damaged. Fundamentally, however, the biggest problem is recharge speed. We can fill up our cars in 5 minutes which, with an efficient car like mine gives me more than 600 KM of range!

A battery car would be lucky to drive 160 KM after 5 hours of charge on a high voltage circuit.

But what if you could just swap out the battery for a new one and drive off? That’s the premis of the Israeli company Better Place. Last night they hosted a “tweetup” (see #btrplc)  and, as it was only a stone’s throw from my home, I went.

As far as I was concerned the science was in: the car would suck and be like driving a glorified golf cart. This would be especially because it is built around a Renault Fluence that, in petrol form, is not a great car and of which my company just returned a woefully underpowered version to our lease company.

But my mind was changed. I only drove it for a couple of minutes and will have a longer test on real roads next week but the thing was good to drive. A little too quiet for my tastes but the amazing torque characteristics of fully electric drive give tremendous acceleration at almost any speed.

Aside from the car, the major selling point of Better Place is the network of re-charge points and battery swap facilities they are building out across Israel. Israel is small enough that this looks to be practical. When you buy the car, the purchase price includes someone coming to your home to install a charge point: obviously for those hunting for on street parking in Tel Aviv this is going to be a problem but I have a dedicated off street covered parking spot. So far so good. For my daily routine of taking kids to kindergarten and driving to my office, one charge point at home would be fine. And it’s quite likely that there will be somewhere at my office that they’ll put a charge point in eventually.

For longer trips, say up to Haifa, Jerusalem or beyond, the car wouldn’t necessarily be able to do this on one charge: for that I would have to pull into a robotic battery swap point whereupon I would receive a new, fully charged battery and be on my way. Considering I don’t do this more than a couple of times a month, it might just work. Here’s the company video on swapping:

But what really caught my eye was the headline price of the cars. At ₪122,900 for the base model that actually is pretty competitive. For Americans that might seem a lot at $32k but in comparison to other cars on the market in Israel, and considering the size and level of equipment in the car and the feeling from the engine (which to me felt like fast 2.0l or even 2.5l) it’s not bad at all. You then have to subscribe to a mileage related subscription which ranged from ₪1000 to ₪2000 for between 20,000 and 40,000 KMs per year. That gives you all the electricity you can eat and unlimited battery swaps when you need them. There also seemed to be some scope to haggle (it’s the middle east for pete’s sake!). Add to that, electric motors are essentially maintenance free for decades and so service charges should be lower than a petrol car.

I’m going to do some serious adding up, looking at my fuel bills: there are also a couple of other things such as a built in theft deterrent tracking system (something I currently pay ₪150 per month for as a condition of insurance). It’s not that I’ll stop paying for fuel, but it has the potential to be 10 to 20% cheaper (I think for me) and the price is fixed for 3 years. If oil were to leap to $200 per barrel next month because of Iran, the economics would shift in its favour even further. And I won’t be directly giving money to people who hate me!

OK I know, the electricity company has to make the electricity from something and today a lot of that is from Egyptian gas but with Israel’s own gas looking to come on stream in the future, things are looking better for that.

I’m seriously thinking about this: I have until March (the third anniversary of my Aliyah) to buy a discounted brand new car. I was not planning on using this right because, when you add it all up, the discount in the taxes on a brand new car is probably one half or one third the drop in value of the car in it’s first year. It’s basically better to buy a one year old car than buy a new one with Oleh Hadash rights. But a new electric car is a tempting proposition!

About Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian's interests include electric cars, world peace and an end to world hunger. Besides blogging here, Brian of London now writes at the Times of Israel. Brian of London also hosted Shire Network News

8 incoming links

Israeli Secret Sauce Is The Real Power Inside Better Place’s Electric Cars : Israellycool
23 January 2012 at 10:01pm
[...] was a big day for electric cars in Israel and the world. The Better Place company, ...
Brian Writes For PJ Media » Is Israel Making the Electric Car Work? : Israellycool
27 January 2012 at 12:01pm
[...] the Better Place electric car that I’ve written about a couple of times here ...
Who Died And Made This Guy King? Oh Wait, We Did! : Israellycool
07 February 2012 at 12:02pm
[...] h/t Mike Granoff from Better Place. ...
Electric Cars Are Just Better Than Regular Cars | Israellycool
30 April 2012 at 11:04am
[...] exotic machines on most of the UK’s best tracks. I love the noise, the speed ...
This Could Be The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship | Israellycool
21 May 2012 at 5:05pm
[...] Beautiful Friendship Brian of London | May 21, 2012 | 0 commentsThe day finally ...
They’re Not Just Selling A Car | Israellycool
28 June 2012 at 12:06pm
[...] | 0 commentsBack in January I was treated to the complete Better Place Visitor ...
Why I’m Giving Up On My Electric Car | Israellycool
24 February 2013 at 11:02am
[...] many readers know I’ve laboriously documented how I went from electric car ...
Revisiting The Better Place Past | Israellycool
11 April 2014 at 10:04am
[…] Here’s what I wrote on Jan 12th over two years ago. I still feel the same ...

Facebook Comments

  • STV

    I think that it might work in Israel but for many places, including Britain; they need an alternative fuel for the internal combustion engine; especially for us classic car owners; to run alongside electric/alcohol cars.

    One solution won’t be enough and I doubt the politicians are smart enough to figure that out. Wouldn’t be so bad if we lived in a democracy.

    Algae looked like the right sort of idea a couple years ago but I didn’t hear much more about that.

    • http://www.israellycool.com/author/brianoflondon/ Brian of London

      I firmly believe that there are numerous good solutions to Jihad oil and the correct answer is all of them! As many different methods as possible, with mild consolidation so that economies of scale apply. Definitely yes to multiple forms of liquid fuel, flex fuel conversions for existing cars, plug in, plug in hybrids and battery swap cars. We could have beaten this years ago if the pols hadn’t been co-opted by the absolutely real and vicious Arab Oil Lobby.

      • STV

        I was just checking out some of the new cars that appeared at the Detroit motor show. My big criticism of EVs is that they all seem to be designed to be ugly or innocuous.

        Smart just unveiled a 74bhp electric pick-up truck, aimed at the U.S market, that has a flatbed 1M in length (it’s 2m shorter than the F150 overall), has charging docks for electric bikes and is ugly as sin.

        I don’t think hey’re going to win any friends over with that.

        I completely agree with you Brian on everything you’ve said but for now I’ll stick with petrol and wait for the Subaru BRZ/Toyota/Scion to come out for my next car.

        • Mitch

          STV – I totally hear you. Have you seen the Fluence ZE? It is a gorgeous and classy car. They took a normal looking sedan and totally jazzed it up. The exterior has a tint of blue in the headlights and in other places. The interior is spacious and comfortable.

  • StamEhad

    The electric car has only 10% tax, compared to 80% tax on fuel cars (more or less) what kind of Oleh rights do you get?

  • Jim from Iowa

    That’s the spirit, Brian! What’s wrong with getting off of big oil and pursuing alternative energy sources? How did this get to be so political, anyway? Fuel efficiency is a left/right issue? So you don’t worship the ground Al Gore flies over (like I do). It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. And with ideas like buying an electric car made in Israel, you’re going to finish on top, Brian.

    • http://www.israellycool.com/author/brianoflondon/ Brian of London

      If I’m getting a vote of confidence from Jim from Iowa I’ll start getting worried!

      Remember: the only reason I contemplate this is to stop giving money to the Jihadi Oil!

  • http://www.judithdeborah.com Judith Deborah

    I did exactly the same thing — I went to Better Place and came back smitten. I loved driving that thing. It has great pickup, goes fast, looks cool, and is really quiet — a car version of the strong, silent type. Kind of dreamy, really (and I’m not just talking about Shai Agassi).

    • cba

      “the strong, silent type. Kind of dreamy, really (and I’m not just talking about Shai Agassi).”

      I hear you, sista…

    • Mitch

      Hi Judith :)

      I can not agree with you anymore. The looks is there, the torque is there. You know what’s not there? Oil! G’bye Jihad hello electric.

  • David Rose

    To paraphrase the only Roman adage, “I came, I saw and was conquered!” Back in October I visited the Better Place Visitors Center and had the amazing experience of driving this wonderful car, I even returned to do it again on the streets of Tel Aviv. I will be receiving my car in March and officially become the first owner of a Fluence ZE in the Upper Galilee region, truly an historical event.

    • Mitch

      David –

      It’s truly amazing. I love how you are bringing it to the Upper Galilee region.

      I just drove it again today and I still get excited.

    • Shmuel Kramer

      David, I live in the north too. Where are there going to be switch stations? Are they installing a charging point at your home?

      • http://www.israellycool.com/author/brianoflondon/ Brian of London

        The price of the car includes installation of a charge point at your home. All electricity for that is paid for direct to the electricity company by Better Place: it does not appear on your electricity bill.

  • soloman4israel

    didn’t america bring out many years ago an electric car with fantastic mileage,a vehicle that could only be hired/leased,if i remember some famous people tried to get them and wer’e refused?mel gibson?i think was one?
    and as my yanky friend is out i can’t ask him but i do think they are no longer on the market but wer’e advertised and had some very good reports for their coverage/miles per charge.
    i’ll stick to my 4wheel drive thank you even when israel becomes littered with exchange/charging bays,you cant beat a full blooded engine to get you out of trouble any-time any place any where.

  • Pingback: Israeli Secret Sauce Is The Real Power Inside Better Place’s Electric Cars : Israellycool()

  • Pingback: Brian Writes For PJ Media » Is Israel Making the Electric Car Work? : Israellycool()

  • Mark in Texas

    I commend you for doing this. It looks like it will make economic sense in Israel. I wish you and Better Place luck.

    One thing that has puzzled me over the years is that Israel has done so little with the scientific discoveries of Israel’s first President, Chaim Weitzman. Before he was President of Israel, Weitzman was president of the world Zionist League. Before that he was a biochemist who discovered the “Weitzman Organism” which ate molasses and excreted acetone and butanol which were vital to Great Britain’s success in the First World War. You might have heard of David Balfour’s expression of gratitude issued in 1917.

    Anyway, butanol can be used to fuel unmodified automobiles. It would seem reasonable that Israel would import molasses from African countries and use it to produce jihad free fuel in Israel. When the technology is debugged, it could be exported to sugar producing African nations so that they would have an alternative to spending all their foreign reserves on oil imports.

    • http://www.israellycool.com/author/brianoflondon/ Brian of London

      If the question is which alternative to Arab dominated crude oil should we use for personal transport, my answer is anything and everything!

      I’m a believer in the Open Fuel Standard of requiring cars to be able to run on all types of fuel: mandate that the cars can run on anything and who knows what alternatives will spring up.

      I also don’t think we need to dump crude oil products altogether: we just have to have viable alternatives for 20% to 40% of their use and then the entire Big Oil industry market can happily collapse back to where the purchasers have the power instead of the suppliers.

      And that is what the vicious Oil industry and the Sheiks it supports have been so scared of all these years. With luck, the dyke is breaking now.

  • Mark in Texas

    Like you I would love to see something like Robert Zubrin’s plan implemented where all new cars must be capable of running on a wide variety of fuels including gasoline, ethanol and methanol.

    Unfortunately Big Oil and the Sheikhs seem to have blocked that pretty effectively, at least when it comes to US government action. That is what makes butanol so attractive. It does not require any changes to existing cars. You just pour it into your gas tank and go.

    The technology to produce it is pretty basic as well. You pour molasses and water into a big kettle then add the Weitzman bacteria (Clostridium Acetylbutyacium) which eats sugar and excretes a mixture of acetone, butanol and ethanol. You then distill the mixture to separate the products. During WW 1 they used to do this in whiskey distilleries.

    Given Israel’s high taxes on gasoline, this might make economic sense right now, at least if butanol is not subject to those taxes. Now imagine an Israeli company packaging a computer controlled factory into the form factor of several shipping containers so that it could be set up in a third world country and operated by the people who live there.

  • Pingback: Who Died And Made This Guy King? Oh Wait, We Did! : Israellycool()

  • Pingback: Electric Cars Are Just Better Than Regular Cars | Israellycool()

  • Pingback: This Could Be The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship | Israellycool()

  • Pingback: They’re Not Just Selling A Car | Israellycool()

  • Pingback: Why I’m Giving Up On My Electric Car | Israellycool()

  • Pingback: Revisiting The Better Place Past | Israellycool()

Israellycool is testing Sovevos. Click for more info.