On Thursday the Knesset’s Economic ministry hosted a special session to hear from interested parties in the collapse of Better Place.
Better Place owners organised, mostly via Facebook and the new Electric Vehicle lobby group we’ve formed, to make sure owners showed up. We asked for 10 and I believe we had more than 15.
I can’t give a full account of what was said: frustratingly my Hebrew isn’t good enough so I had to rely on help from those sitting next to me. Take these comments as just a guide to what I felt was said and if I make any specific errors I hope someone will correct me.
The receiver (Segal Rechov Rosen) spoke and my impression then and after is she understands Better Place reasonably well. She does clearly see there is very little value if the system is switched off. Obviously she has very limited funds to run the company and must try to find a buyer for all or part of it very quickly. She confirmed the system will operate at least until June 13. After that we have no idea but she did not (as Globes erroneously reported) say the network will definitely shut on June 13.
Interestingly the receiver even mentioned how the government had done nothing to help the installation of charge spots in useful places or help prevent the blocking of public charge spots by ICE cars.
A representative of the car importers association spoke and, as far as I can tell, was mostly negative. In my opinion some part of the failure of Better Place is on the shoulders of these guys: they are terrified of anything coming in and shaking up their cozy little cartel.
We heard from a wide range of owners: many downplayed the importance of switching noting that with charging at home and office, you can travel very large daily distances without switching. The issue of charge spots being delayed or blocked by the Israeli Electric Company and other petty government bureaucracies. I might be wrong, but I don’t think anyone spoke negatively about the experience of owning an electric car backed by Better Place.
I’m updating with the following extra piece left by Yaara (who’s heavily involved in the EV lobbying and owners group):
One point – all owners who spoke did say the loved the car and want to continue driving it but also pointed out the importance not only of a good network of charging spots, but also of switching stations. Without them, we are just like the rest of the world – a country where the electric car is essentially a city car. With them – we have limitless range. The stations are there, the investment has been made, surely a way can be found to make them work financially? Israel could and should continue to lead the electric revolution!
The chairman of the meeting understands the importance of moving away from dependence on oil as the sole fuel for motor transport. I got this impression because I couldn’t hold my tongue and put myself forward to speak at one point. I had to do that in English so I did have a very brief conversation with him in English. The point I tried to make (despite being interrupted) was around the vast investment has been made in Israel and how the Government has seemed to actively try to stop it succeeding up to now. Perhaps now would be a good chance to stop doing that. I believe I did manage to mention that it was ridiculous that the large parking garage for the Knesset visitors has no charge spots.
The Israeli Electric Company didn’t send anyone. That just about sums up their involvement in the electrification of transport in Israel. An adamant refusal to be helpfully involved.
I left the meeting with a neutral feeling. I don’t believe Better Place will (or should) be saved by direct government involvement but perhaps there is a slim chance that if some parts of the company are saved, some elements in government might act to help it a little. There is talk of a law mandating government departments to electrify 20% of their fleets. Without Better Place, that most likely means a lot of money to Honda and Toyota importers for hybrids and plug in hybrids.
After the meeting I took home two other owners. I had picked up David Rose on my way down and, on a whim, I decided to return him him all the way to his home in the Galilee. I ended the day having driven 462 km or 287 miles and switching 5 times (though one in the morning was rather unnecessary and I only did it because I picked David up at a switch station and was a little early). There’s no doubt Better Place built an astonishing system that works. Now we have to see if it can be run economically.
Personally I will be inspecting the figures the receiver comes up with carefully. Who knows, maybe it will be possible to keep it going. We just don’t know yet.