I had always expected battery swapping to be expensive, but Better Place announced yesterday that renting a swappable battery pack will cost you $4200 USD per year in expenses.
I’m yet to be convinced that Better Place’s business can work. The convenience of battery swapping is a great idea, however fast charges are getting ever shorter. Nissan’s next generation of LEAF with Toshiba SCiB batteries can fast charge in just 15 minutes – at a cost of around two US dollars of electricity – with no battery pack leasing costs.
If you just need a quick top up, say, only 30 miles, then a fast charger can deliver this in around 5 minutes. That’s the time it takes to use the bathroom, check the emails, or call someone (if you’re a man – a female phone conversation would offer enough time for 2 full fast charges in my experience!).
Annoyingly (and obviously) we must remember that Better Place customers can only buy an electric car that takes their single-sized, swappable battery pack. Even with the Renault Fluence selling at a heavily reduced cost of about $20,000 USD, a Nissan Leaf would end up a more cost effective purchase in the USA, when you factor in two years of Better Place battery renting.
Shai Agassi is a very charismatic seller of his product. When a reporter asked him, “Have you been surprised by how long it’s taking electric vehicles such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt to roll out in the United States?”, he answered with:
“We didn’t have different expectations. The first flight after the Wright Brothers took off in the air, for about 10 feet, wasn’t to the moon. You don’t jump up, and say, “We can get airborne, so let’s go to the moon.” What you do is slowly move up, gradually.”
He has a point, and that’s exactly what Nissan, GM, and Mitsubishi are doing, with the opening of new mass-production plants in the USA planned for next year. This will allow more competition, more supply, and more demand.
Which again makes me wonder if Better Place is destined to succeed. Personally, I don’t want to be tied to one company at a price I have no control of – this is why I want an electric car in the first place, to be free from the dreadfully high price of oil. But there could still be a market for fleets who are in range of a battery swapping station.
In my own case, I no longer want a dictator demanding – and receiving – whatever price he desires for his product, just so I can get to work and back each day. In the past it’s always been oil sheikhs who set these prices, but soon it could be “Battery sheikhs”.
Mr Agassi was also asked about competing technologies to his product, such as fast-charging electric cars, and how many quick charging stations could be installed for the price of one Better Place battery-swapping station.
He responded by suggesting they weren’t his competition, saying, “If I’m driving a car that requires a half-hour stop on the side of the road, fast charge, that’s also not competition for a three-minute switch. One is a car, and the other one is a vehicle.”
Personally I feel that fast-charging electric cars are very much his competition and he should acknowledge them as such.
For example, Better Place’s battery packs can take the Renault Fluence 100 miles with a 3 minute battery swap at the end. But, if an electric car such as the LEAF or Tesla Model S could gulp down that same 100 miles in 15 minutes, he should be very concerned. Mostly, because those cars have no ongoing battery leasing fees either.
Perhaps in a PR move, Mr Agassi considers labels oil as his real competition, stating that a three-minute fill-up is what people expect at any gas station across the country. He obviously hasn’t had to wait in line at a busy New Zealand gas station for 15 minutes like I have often had to.
He concludes with, “Now, if somebody thinks they can do better than that, with any technology, they’re my friend. Because they also end oil.” to which the skeptic in me wonders why then, he’s priced the battery swapping batteries at the same price as filling up a gas powered car.
Bottom line: for many of us considering the benefits of an electric car, the ongoing costs are just too high.
There are some heroic eco-warriors out there who would love to spend this money for the “Green cred” that comes with it, but for the rest of us we want electric cars because they give us the freedom we’re used to, without the many costs of burning oil – at a price that rivals walking.