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The Only Democracy? » Featured » How NOT to Introduce New Green-Tech: The Cautionary Tale of Israel’s “Better Place”

How NOT to Introduce New Green-Tech: The Cautionary Tale of Israel’s “Better Place”

We have just ended four weeks during which Israeli business and politics were almost completely shut down due to a spate of Jewish holidays. There’s a known refrain in Hebrew: “After the Holidays”, meaning “Don’t worry, we’ll get back to you sometime in October, if at all.”

In other words, last week was the perfect week in Israel for a bad news dump.

Israel’s iconic CEO Shai Agassi has been fired from his position at the electric car company Better Place. He will be replaced by Evan Thornley, the current CEO of Better Place Australia.

…Agassi was fired amid massive financial losses, according to Haaretz headlines this morning. …We reported earlier this year that Better Place was bleeding capital: no surprise given its intense PR and marketing outreach to the global public. So could this be the reason for the Agassi let-go? The company isn’t opening up.

After launching in Israel a couple of months ago the public hasn’t caught on to the appeal of driving fully electric cars with switchable batteries and only about 500 cars in Israel have been sold, out of Better Place’s 100,000 car promise to Renault – the manufacturer of the electric EV. For the last couple of years celebrities and the public were happy for photo-ops test driving the cars, but they are less enthusiastic about buying them, given the high price and controlled rates at the charge stations.

In the Israeli scene, Agassi’s dismissal is equivalent to Apple’s dumping of Steve Jobs. True, Agassi ain’t no Jobs and Better Place ain’t no Apple, but they sure like to pretend they are.

So… some readers might be wondering: who the heck are Better Place?

My (limited) Better Place Connection


As its English Wikipedia entry says, Better Place (abbreviated BP, how fitting) makes

Subscription-based electric car charging points and battery-switching stations.

I know this description very well, because I put it in there a few months ago. Before that, the entry (which is still >90% promotional BP material) claimed that the company’s product is

Electric cars

which is a classic Romney-esque, or, if you will, Agassi-esque lie. Because you see, the sad truth is that more than anything else, BP is in the PR business.

I have multiple personal interests in the BP story, although none of them is of the conflict-of-interest type. Here they are:

1. As a recent proud Nissan Leaf owner and evolving EV/PHEV advocate, I have an interest in the flourishing of EV technology, and see the technological concept at BP’s core as worthy of consideration.

2. Some 4 years ago when I first heard of BP and read the Agassi gospel, it seemed very convincing, and I was in fact in the process of looking for a job that would repatriate us to Israel. I thought BP could use an applied statistician or operations-research type, to help develop stuff like station-deployment strategy. So I submitted my CV and also inquired via informal channels, but never heard back from them, so it never really became serious – and that’s ok. But the affair has kindled my interest in this peculiar company; an interest that was re-awakened once we ourselves got into the EV world.

3. This story showcases some of the do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) of trying to introduce EVs to the general public and to an un-initiated market.

4. Even more so, it highlights much of what is wrong with 21st Century Israeli mentality, in a setting that is less of an emotional minefield than the standard Israel-Palestine topics – but which nonetheless can help shed light upon the dynamics of those other problems as well.

5. Speaking of which, I am also keenly aware of the deliberate role that BP has tried to play in the repulsive “Brand Israel” campaign.

Shai Agassi: The Man, The Vision, The Insufferable Egomania


In the Israeli hi-tech community (in which I have multiple siblings, relatives, friends and some direct personal history) there is tremendous admiration for Shai Agassi. I am not familiar with all the reasons, but the fact is that at a young age, he became the VP of international software giant SAP. A completely unrelated anecdote: I am just now having my first experience with an SAP software product (its “Business Objects”), and it SUCKS – to put it mildly :)

Agassi’s meteoric rise was noticed by Israel’s eternal Elder Statesman, Shimon Peres, who invited him one of those charming 0.1%-er events, some World Young Leaders Forum in Davos in 2005. There, when these Atlases were asked to do Humanity a favor and solve its problems rather than just make tons of money for themselves – Agassi came up with the idea of turning EVs into A Car for Everyone, as the most effective thing he could do to “make the world a Better Place”. Get it? Better Place. Clever, huh?

To my knowledge, till that point Agassi had zero interest or experience in green technology. Being a quick learner, he did some research and decided that currently the main obstacles to universal acceptance of EVs are price and range anxiety. And he came up with an innovative solution: turn EVs into switchable-battery cars – and develop a business model in which the consumer owns the car, but rents – or rather subscribes – to receive a full electricity service (including both the batteries and the charging) from a single provider. This model, he argued, will drive the cost of ownership down, while the switchable battery will make the EV’s range problem all but disappear.

Elegant idea. It is also a classic piece of Israeli out-of-the-box thinking: come into a new field, see something no one else does, then squeeze it to the max. Within a short while, and with Establishment backing, Agassi established BP and raised hundreds of millions without even needing to go public. He was also a lead character in the “Brand Israel” propaganda book Start-Up Nation (first author: Dan Senor, currently employed as Romney’s foreign-policy advisor). In 2008-9, on practically every week you could read about Agassi in some major US magazine or hear him over the mainstream media, explaining how lucky the world is to have him around.

The problem is that Agassi never intended to set up an operation to make electric cars, or even to develop those mission-critical switchable batteries. Rather, like Microsoft, he preferred to position BP away from the sweaty, painful job of making the hardware, and right on the customer interface where he could cash in on consumer dependence, and brand the BP logo upon their EV experience. He also planned to retain the rights to sell the vehicles on behalf of manufacturers (despite openly claiming to have no interest in car sales).

In other words, BP is little more than a hyper-glorified EV dealership network.

Did I mention that Israel has no car-making industry? Another old Israeli joke: we can make the world’s best tank, but we can’t make a decent car to save our own lives. Also even though some Israeli companies have done EV-battery R&D, I don’t think any are directly involved in the making of present-generation EV batteries.

You know what, it’s ok to premise your business model upon service and upon that elusive “user experience”. But what is not ok, is that from the get-go Agassi regarded car manufacturers with open disdain. In his numerous interviews he conveyed that EV makers are lazy bums. If they weren’t so slow, he and his magnificent vision would have saved Humanity long ago. He was also, and still remains, dismissive of any other EV/PHEV/Hybrid concept besides his own. In particular he has always ridiculed the Prius. Even now, when everyone agrees the Prius is an unqalified success, all Agassi has to say is point out that “they only have 2% of the world car market, so what’s their impact anyway?”

See, instead of using the fact that the world’s leading family-car manufacturer has taken an entire decade and $10 billion in R&D money to push a technology more consumer-friendly than the EV into the mainstream – as a lesson about the enormity of the task at hand;

Instead of adopting some humility, some respect for car makers upon whose success his company completely depends, and a highly collaborative attitude – Agassi has chosen to be the insufferable prick who snorts at everyone else.

Of course, those familiar with Israeli culture will immediately recognize this behavior as our salient national trait – stronger even than our “out-of-the-box” glory. This infinite hubris is especially typical of the post-1967 macho Israeli male. We come across as arrogant even when we don’t intend to be (believe me, living in Seattle I have learned this the hard way). And when we do intend to show how great we are, like Agassi (or like Prime Minister Bibi on the UN podium) – we might as well walk with a T-shirt saying

I’m Israeli. I’m Perfect, and everyone who doesn’t worship me is an Idiot.

(corollary: those who do worship me are also idiots, but they are very useful)

So it is not surprising that BP only managed to convince one EV manufacturer to try switchable batteries, and that too with only a single model. The maker is Renault of France. On the plus side, it is essentially merged with Nissan, maker of the fabulous Leaf. So the basic tech know-how is there. But the Renault brand is far weaker than Nissan, because of worse reliability history. We know – our first car was an aging Renault 11, that had cost us dearly in repairs and breakdowns.

Yet, BP had the temerity to symbolically “order” in advance (a “non-binding order”, whatever that means) 100,000 Renault Fluence EVs. For reference: to this day, 2 years after the worldwide launch, Nissan has sold only 38,000 Leafs.

Israel: The Curious Pilot Site


Rather than go for major world markets where EVs and other green vehicles are gaining acceptance – the US West Coast, Europe’s larger nations or Japan – Agassi opted for trying the Better Place concept in small countries: Israel and Denmark, but predominantly Israel. While choosing to start at home might seem natural, Israeli companies with global aspirations rarely target, or even bother to regard the Israeli market. And when it comes to EVs, switchable-battery or otherwise, Israel might have been one of the last choices on the list.

The Israeli market was completely un-initiated on multiple levels. Since the 1980′s Israeli economy and society fell head-over-heels into low-information consumerism. Generally speaking, that is not a mindset conducive to jumping on the EV bandwagon. Also, while the world has been paying increasing attention to global warming since the start of this century, Israelis were busy trying to figure out why they are still stuck in a dirty war of attrition with Palestinians – and fell back upon the most emotionally satisfying (and low-information) explanation, namely “Clash of Civilizations for Dummies: We Good, Them Bad”. Then, when word of climate change reached Israel, my compatriots looked around and saw that their most staunch allies in this War on Terra cause, also happen to be adamant global-warming deniers. So to this day, the Israeli mainstream has remained skeptic and even derisive of global warming information and activism. This includes even a sizable chunk of progressives, who at the very best think this is a “boutique” issue for people who don’t have other more serious problems.

And those Israelis genuinely concerned about the country’s CO2 footprint, surely know that Israel’s electricity sources are 99.6% fossil – mostly coal and gas. So if one looks for a green-tech solution, then the first order of business is to start harvesting Israel’s immense solar potential – and given its limited area and high rate of urbanicity, this means massive campaigns for rooftop solar. Conversion to EVs should be, at best, a secondary effort, especially an experimental EV project starting from scratch. Even on that front, far more can be accomplished far more quickly by more aggressively encouraging hybrids and PHEVs.

But Agassi cooked up solutions to these marketing challenges as well. On a personal marketing level, he thought that just like Steve Jobs succeeded in convincing an entire generation that its life is worthless if it doesn’t buy the latest Apple entertainment gadget, Agassi decided he’ll convince the common Israeli that EVs are The New Cool. And that they are the easiest thing in the world. The service contract has been packaged and presented as following the cellphone-service paradigm (Israelis are among the world’s most devoted to cellphones and smartphones). On the collective level, the sales pitch in Israel was “stopping the world’s dependence on [Arab] Oil”. No mention of global warming.

In 2010 BP launched a huge visitor center set inside a decommissioned oil mega-tank on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. A few weeks later, as we were in Israel for our son’s Bar Mitzva, we visited there. My dad, a hard-core BP enthusiast, ordered our visit spots in advance. During the visit, the sales pitch was exactly as I described. Lots of scary images of “unstable regimes” controlling oil, a bit about smog-inducing tailpipe emission, not a word about CO2 or global warming. The Cool part, besides a lot of happy talk during the presentation, included a drive in a Renault EV (at that time not yet the Fluence, but converted gas cars) for any grownup who so desired. As a souvenir from that visit, my son still happily sports BP stickers on his bedroom door.

I chatted a bit with the visitor-center guides, and was bemused to learn that they are not BP employees at all. The entire visitor center and everything conveyed in it is run by an entity completely separate from BP’s real operations. I don’t know how common this is – maybe it’s par for the course for established companies – but IMHO for a start-up company with an experimental vision this is not a good sign.

The Real Reason for Choosing Israel


Of course, Agassi is not a complete chump. He wasn’t banking on winning over the Israeli consumers one by one. His plan was (and still is) to steamroll over them.

As I mentioned, this has been a heavily Establishment-backed enterprise. Agassi appointed the outgoing IDF deputy-chief-of-staff (another EV expert, I presume) as CEO of BP-Israel. His biggest investor (36%) is the Israel Corp: as its website proudly boasts, this multi-industry behemoth is Israel’s largest holding company. It derives most of its revenue from an exclusive license to mine the Dead Sea’s potash and other minerals, which it has been doing with reckless abandon to the point that the entire Dead Sea basin is experiencing a multi-dimensional environmental disaster. It has also, according to various reports, not paid up its royalties to the state for this privilege.

Not exactly the natural partner for a clean-tech venture – unless you want to help them do a bit of Greenwashing, that is. But it is a great partner, if you want to create a new national monopoly.

In stark contrast to the promotional crap by Senor et al. (as also evidenced by what Romney said during his disastrous Israel visit), Israel’s economy is not characterized by “freedom and individual initiative” or anything of the sort. Rather, most key economic activities are dominated by monopolies or oligopolies, with the inevitable cronyism and corruption. In that respect, the main difference between the 1950′s and 1960′s and nowadays, is that socialist-type monopolies have been replaced by private monopolies, quite often simply by privatizing the old ones and selling them at dirt-cheap prices to connected cronies. Even “New Economy” markets that only came into being recently, such as cable TV, are dominated by a monopoly – backed by government rules and regulations enacted supposedly “to protect consumers”, but actually to achieve the opposite. Most of Israel’s economic activity is said to be controlled by 19 families. One of these families controls the Israel Corp.

Using his acquired politico-economic clout, Agassi went to the government (at that point, completely un-initiated about EVs) and told it that tons of EVs are coming on our shore, and regulations must be crafted to prevent chaos. First, consumers should be forbidden from trickle-charging from their home plugs, because that might saturate the grid. Second, the installation of charging stations should be allowed only to professional, accountable companies such as…, say, that company called Better Place.

The government gave Agassi what he wanted to the letter, not anticipating the PR backlash. In late 2010, Haaretz newspaper leaked the most egregious regulation:

All electric cars imported into Israel will contain a mechanism that will block them from being charged anywhere but at charging stations. Only companies that offer charging stations and a control center will be permitted to provide electricity for the cars.

According to another 2010 Haaretz story, BP employees actually sat on the Israeli Standards Institute committee writing the regulations.

The news spread fast through the international media. To stem the tide, the government published a “policy principles document” in Hebrew and English (pdf). Out of literally hundreds of documents on the Energy Ministry’s Hebrew website, only 5 have been translated to English, and this is one of them. There is a lot of happy-talk and pretty pics in this strange leaflet, which bears no date stamp, document number or signature of authorizing official. We are assured that the Ministry is *for* competition and *for* the little guy. Anyone can get a certified electrician to install a charging station at her/his home. No need to be hooked to a provider, whatsoever. Our friend the Israeli government just wants to keep everyone safe.

The document not translated, is of course the actual regulations (Hebrew, pdf). Here are some selected excerpts from this document dated 5772-2012 and authorized by Engineer Igor Stefansky, head of Electricity Affairs:

Definitions

…”Charging System” – a system designated for EV charging, that includes a Charging Station, a plug, a socket, cables and anti-electrocution deviced;

…”Charging Station” – a designated electrical instrument, used solely for EV charging.

Electric Vehicle Charging

2. (a) EV charging will be carried out only via a Charging Station.

Later, the document indicates that only one type of plug/socket is allowed (presumably, the Level 2 type, called “Type 2″ in English in the document). So… no trickle-charge from the home socket. Out the door goes the viability of current-generation plug-in hybrids in Israel – and with it the danger of a simpler range-extended EV competition to BP’s monopoly, such as the Volt or the plug-in Prius.

To their credit, these regulations unlike the original 2010 version do allow one to go semi-DYI and get one’s own electrician to install an L2 station. However, there is a long list or specifications, and you must have an electrician inspect it once a year. Rest assured, if you are a stand-alone customer you will stick out like a sore thumb, and the government inspectors *will* visit your home, possibly unannounced, to protect the precious grid from piracy. Hooray for the Little Guy.

But the regulations only set the playing field for the real gambit. After all, monopoly or no monopoly, the Israeli consumer still has to want an EV in the first place, right?

Wrong. Roughly half of Israel’s car market is composed of employers leasing cars as benefit for their employees. Due to various tax loopholes, and to the high cost of cars in Israel, this is a lucrative deal for both sides, and in the middle-class to upper-middle-class professions (e.g. hi-tech) it has become a standard.

Therefore, all Agassi needs to do is convince enough companies (or have the Israel Corp. CEOs convince their CEOs) to try on his EVs and force them upon their employees.

2012: The Great NoseDive


One of the things Agassi did not foresee, is that in summer 2011 the slumbering consumerist Israeli will wake up and start speaking out her hatred of the crony-capitalist system choking her country. The precursor to the unprecedented wave of public protests that engulfed the country, was a campaign organized via Facebook to boycott Tnuva cottage cheese. Tnuva was a socialist-cooperative dairy monopoly privatized in 2008. In a classic 1-2 punch, shortly after the privatization the government “by chance” deregulated basic dairy products, and immediately the price of many products, most conspicuously cottage cheese, skyrocketed. Cottage cheese became a symbol for the rotten system, and eventually the Tnuva CEO, only a year earlier crowned Person of the Year by magazines, was unceremoniously dumped in the protests’ wake.

During the same summer of protests, the following op-ed named “An electric car named cottage cheese” appeared in Haaretz, explaining the view from the rebelling consumer’s eyes:

…First, there’s the price of the car. The electric car will cost NIS 123,000, slightly more than a regular Renault Fluence. That’s the price that was set, even though purchase tax on the electric car will be only 10 percent instead of 70 percent. In other words, the main beneficiary of the huge tax break Better Place obtained from the state, which amounts to some NIS 70,000 per car, will be Better Place itself.

Second is the price of the energy. The minimum package that Better Place is offering its customers covers charging or replacing batteries for up to 20,000 kilometers worth of travel a year, at a cost of NIS 13,000. On its website, Better Place compares this to the cost of the gasoline an ordinary family car would use in traveling the same distance (about NIS 14,700 ) and gives itself a big pat on the back. The problem is that Better Place’s calculations display a troubling resemblance to the pricing tricks employed by the cell phone companies.

Expecting to be lionized and admired for its quick, huge financial backing, its nationalistic mission statement and its cell-phone friendly package, BP has found itself helplessly and haplessly glued to all that is hated by the Israeli consumer.

And either for that reason, or for plain old cautious purchasing instincts, leasing fleet managers have so far stayed away from BP’s offerings as 2012 rolled around and the cars became available. To this date, only several hundred were sold or leased, many of them for employees of BP or related entities.

Trying to mollify the situation, BP quickly offered newer and somewhat better deals for would-be buyers. The car costs NIS 120-130k (>$30k) without the battery (the battery costs another NIS 77k, or nearly $20k). If you don’t want to buy the battery (and BP really doesn’t want you to), then full electricity provision (including the installation of L2 stations and unlimited battery-swap service) can be purchased for as little as NIS 22k for the first 40,000km in advance purchase, or for NIS 650/month and NIS 0.65 for each km over 1000, on a monthly plan.

Still, buyers are not coming. These prices make the BP car only slightly cheaper per km than the average gas car in Israel (assuming you do use up the km you paid for in bulk), and considerably more expensive than a Prius. And consumers are completely bound and dependent upon BP, unless they want to shell out the NIS 77k, pay to install their own L2 station (or buy it over from BP it the latter would allow it), and buy on-demand charging at an inflated price from BP and other (yet non-existent) providers while away from the home. Perhaps consumers in other, more green-friendly countries might still jump on this package deal, especially when offered by a reliable entity. But BP by now is anything but reliable (in fact, it is beginning to emit the stench of death). Besides, Israelis know that a monopoly can jack the prices up any time it feels like (cottage cheese, anyone?). They had been exactly in that single-provider story during the 1980′s to mid-1990′s with the cellphone monopoly “Pelefon”, to this day a hated and despised brand. Funny that Agassi himself would tout the cellphone-company as a model for his business.

Committed to its megalomaniac vision, BP nonetheless proceeded to build a full, dense national infrastructure, with the big-cost items being dozens of battery-switching stations. Roughly 40 are now built and 20-30 are operational. Not being a public company, BP does not disclose its internal operations and finances. But Israel Corp. is public – and through it the public receives a report of BP’s bottom line. In Q2 of 2012, BP racked up a record $64 million loss, bringing the cumulative bleeding since its inception to a whopping $477 million. And this, without giving a hand, not even a finger, to the actual designing of EVs or their batteries!

The often-quoted cost of a battery-switching station in BP publications is a half-million dollars. But judging from the rate of cash burn vs. the number of stations (there are also a dozen reported up in Denmark and a few more scattered about), the inevitable conclusion is that the real cost is at least 3-4 times higher.

Considering the idol-worship around Agassi the Genius, the entire affair is hilariously funny. For a company that placed PR and spin as its top priority, ending up as a ridiculed monopolistic bad guy is quite a feat. And then, look at BP’s basic operational planning of a pilot in their own home country, for which they had all the time in the world to prepare.

Any middle-schooler with a sense for numbers could have told BP that they should start with the Tel Aviv region where the majority of Israelis live, and with maybe 5-7 switching stations enabling a drive to locations reasonably distant from Tel Aviv. *And* while offering sweet deals for the early adopters, to compensate for the untested and not-yet-complete service – just like the first competition to “Pelefon” did when they came online with their crappy but much awaited-for cellphone service in 1995. Then, as a customer base and a revenue stream are established, start gradually expanding.

But no: only a charismatic Genius, a Technological Guru for All Things can be that stupid.

Epilogue: Is Better Place a Green Company?


In late September, BP partnered with leasing company Albar for a limited-time leaseback offer: no need to buy the car outright. Rather, pay NIS 2000 (>$500) for 36 months, for up to 12,000 km/year. This sounds more like the lucrative deals offered here (such as the one that landed one our Leaf), and indeed Albar reported leasing 48 EVs over the Holidays, about 6% of its total deal volume for that period. But this seems too little, too late.

The new BP CEO might still pull off a last-minute stunt and save the company from early self-destruction. More likely, the Israeli and other governments will try to pitch in to bail it out. Already the EU bank loaned out 40 million Euros to help BP finish up its Denmark deployment (BP’s website boasts this as a success!).

The question remains whether BP should be considered a green company. My categorical answer is No. The battery-switching idea itself is a green idea, that might be workable and relevant for many cases. But the way BP has approached its implementation is wrong on so many levels, that it is disqualified from being considered a green company.

Besides BP’s monopolistic foul play and cynicism towards reducing the footprint of Israel’s electricity, as described above, the expatriate Palestinian site Electronic Intifada identified BP early on as a classic “Brand Israel” project to greenwash the Occupation. All the ingredients were there, including the appointment of an Israeli general with a past of overseeing the Occupation of the West Bank directly, as BP-Israel CEO. In addition, BP (just like all other Israeli infrastructure companies) has no qualms about installing stations – including battery-switching station – to serve Israeli West Bank settlers and Israelis who shortcut their drive through Occupied Palestinian territory on Apartheid highways that are essentially closed to Palestinians (such as the Jordan Valley, or the infamous Highway 443 to Jerusalem). In a classic Israeli-Western wink and nod, both BP and its foreign investors pretend that none of this (which is often illegal under the investors’ home-country rules) is really happening.

Additionally, as a sign that PR for the state of Israel is part of its core business strategy, BP’s leadership has never bothered to correct the mistaken notion (conveyed by its own PR) that it actually produces cars or batteries. Rather, the idea has been to produce as much international noise as possible. Noise that runs far ahead of the reality, and projects the false image that “Israel is a leader in the EV industry.”

Left almost unasked, is the more basic question of the BP pilot’s carbon footprint. True, EVs are more efficient in energy usage than gas cars, but

1. Israelis’ car-fleet is much more energy-efficient than say the US’s, so the gain is not as dramatic;

2. The battery-switching installation present a considerable footprint overhead compared to ordinary EV infrastructure;

3. The prohibition of home-plug recharging (written in at BP’s request) adds a redundant footprint-overhead, because people using their EVs for ~1000 km/month or less, or those who can recharge at work for even part of the workday, don’t really need an L2 station; and last but not least,

4. As said, Israel’s electricity sources are almost exclusively coal and gas. During my 2010 visit to the BP visitor center, I confronted the guide directly regarding Israel’s electricity sources and the resultant CO2-futility of this huge EV project. “I’m with you”, she said, “BP is working with the government to install more solar panels and other renewables”, and indeed the visitor center has some nice solar PVs for show. But as written above, the visitor-center operation has nothing to do with BP itself, and BP used its leverage with the government solely in order to write its own rules. The fledgling Israeli solar-PV market was left to fend for itself, constrained by arbitrary government quotas (set, of course, to protect the public; why else?). For the record, the solar potential in Israel is so high that placing solar PVs on all rooftops will probably answer all the country’s electricity needs. Not to mention Palestine, where the per-capita consumption is much lower.

One cannot avoid feeling some schadenfreude towards Agassi. It is rare to see in our world, a case when someone with so much power and leverage to do the right thing, pays so quickly for his corrupt decision to choose the opposite, and for his insufferable “worship me” arrogance. Besides, Agassi will surely land some other sweet deal sooner or later, so why not mock him in the meantime?

But there’s a bigger problem. For Israelis, BP has become synonymous with the EV. As the company’s image tanked and stank, the very concept of EVs has been sullied. Maybe economic and environmental realities will eventually pull Israeli hearts back towards EVs, but a complete BP debacle will likely push such reality many years into the future. And as is true everywhere but especially in Israel, it takes much longer to revise a bad law (e.g. the home-plug prohibition), than to write it correctly from the start.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank and Gaza, with no global propaganda echo-chambers at their service, resourceful Palestinian engineers and handymen are hard at work, trying to free their society of dependence upon Israeli-monopoly oil and power by designing and building EVs and even solar-powered EVs from scratch, at dirt-cheap cost.


As this story went online, yesterday was the first day of full post-Holiday action in Israel. There was a ton of news – culminating with the PM himself calling for early elections for the second time in a few months. First time was a bluff… will it pan out this time? And do people really care, with the nearly-all-crappy options on Israeli voters’ menu?

Anyway… Better Place had two major pieces of news today, a direct follow-up to the news that opened this post:

Shai Agassi stepped down from his position on Better Place’s board of directors on Tuesday, after he was replaced last week as the company’s CEO, and despite a promise to the company’s workers not to do so.

According to officials within the company’s vehicle department, Agassi, who owns less than 5% of the company, became entangled in a conflict with the Israel Corporation, Better Place’s parent company, over his termination.

Those same officials report that a breach of trust between Agassi and the Israel Corporation…

And it gets worse:

Now Israel Corporation has to consider whether to inject additional funds into Better Place after investing $229 million in the venture. Facing a cash crunch, Better Place is seeking an additional $150 million from investors.

So dumping Agassi was not about “changing from the early start-up to a mature company”, as BP officials tried to spin it last week. Rather, it is a last-ditch effort before total meltdown. Agassi was apparently in denial about how bad things are.

(crossposted from Daily Kos, and slightly revised)

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Written by

Assaf Oron works as a statistician and moonlights (voluntarily) as a human-rights activist and blogger. He arrived in Seattle from Israel in 2002 for studies, and for now is sticking with the local greyness, dampness and uber-politeness, while plotting his glorious repatriation to the land of eternal sunshine and rudeness. Meanwhile, he tries to explain to anyone who cares to listen, what the Occupation is and why it must be ended now, not later. Assaf is webmaster for the Israeli human rights organization "Villages Group"

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