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Renault CEO Ghosn body blow to Better Place by questioning swappable batteries

About the size of a quick oil change store, a car owner drives into one end of a Better Place battery swapping station, where roboticized equipment exchanges the battery in 1-2 minutes.
About the size of a quick oil change store, a car owner drives into one end of a Better Place battery swapping station, where roboticized equipment exchanges the battery in 1-2 minutes.
Better Place

Better Place just received what may be a fatal body blow as Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn flatly says swappable battery packs are not the future for electric cars. The statement appeared on Saturday in the Danish online news site Energi Watch, and follows months of troubles for Better Place which saw then-CEO and founder Shai Agassi leave the company, followed by massive layoffs, the shutdown of all operations but those in Israel and Denmark, and the departure of the CEO who replaced Agassi.

The problem for Better Place is that they do not manufacture electric cars, instead the strategy is to partner with automakers who would make compatible electric cars. It was only Renault who stepped up to do so, with the Renault Fluence ZE. To have Renault's CEO openly saying electric cars with swappable batteries are unnecessary is a major vote of no-confidence in Better Place.

Energi Watch quotes Ghosn as saying: "When you look at the overall trends, we must conclude that the replaceable batteries no longer the main track for electric vehicles. The main trail is flat batteries in cars with charging. We believe that people want flexibility in the technology, and we can see that demand is rechargeable standard batteries."

That is, Ghosn is saying the marketplace is choosing electric cars which rely on charging stations, rather than electric cars which rely on battery swapping stations.

The advantage that Better Place offers is what amounts to a fast recharge, by swapping a depleted battery for a fully charged one in about a minute. By contrast, the current crop of electric cars take a few hours to recharge fully thanks to the relatively slow charging rate at typical charging stations.

However, fast charging capabilities are coming along and appearing in more-and-more electric cars.

An example is the Renault ZOE which was announced last fall and just went on sale in Europe. Originally the ZOE was promoted heavily to have battery swapping capabilities, but at its' launch last fall there was no word on battery swapping. Instead it came standard with a brand new fast charging system that could perform a complete recharge in 30 minutes. For some that indicated maybe Renault had changed their mind about their deal with Better Place.

It is a matter of sales, and Better Place has only been able to build its battery swapping stations in two countries, Denmark and Israel. Between those two countries there have been only 2000 or so Renault Fleunce ZE's sold, versus the 50,000 or so Nissan Leaf's, or 9,000 Renault Kangoo's.

It's not a clear-cut case of Renault completely breaking ties with Better Place. The Energi Watch article also quotes Ghosn saying they'll continue providing the Fluence ZE to Better Place "There may be cases where people prefer replaceable batteries - as we have tried to include Israel and Denmark. Here we will continue to offer Fluence with replaceable batteries. There may also be large companies, where they have a huge fleet of cars, and do not want to wait for charging. But it will not be the majority of the market, and going forward, our focus is on the charging technology, among other things look at our new Nissan Leaf."


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