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!

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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

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