If you've been curious about why Better Place went under, have we got the 8,000-word profile for you. For your weekend reading, check out a detailed history of the company's downfall over in Fast Company. Max Chafkin writes an engaging tale of the ups and downs that Better Place went through, and the personalities involved, foremost among them founder Shai Agassi, are also described in honest detail.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but Chafkin does a good job of showing how the $900-million Better Place project managed to be a beautiful dream, for a while. The public excitement over Better Place really started with Agassi's 2009 TED talk, which he describes this way:

This was science fiction, but Agassi presented it as fact, as if just by announcing his company he had already built it. It was "Shai math," as his employees would come to call it. And it was intoxicating. The TED crowd gave Agassi a long standing ovation.

Read the whole thing here. For good measure, we've included a video of the TED talk below, so you can get a feel of how big the original concept was. Enjoy.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 27 Comments
      Joeviocoe
      • 1 Year Ago
      --"The battery doesn't seem to be built for automatic swapping" Actually, it does. One of the very few packs that are in the exact position for swapping, and they have quick disconnecting plugs. Better Place swaps take several minutes... Tesla takes 90 seconds. Seems like Tesla designed theirs to swap.
      Tony Belding
      • 1 Year Ago
      I never understood Better Place. All the time it seemed like people were heaping praise upon the company, I was scratching my head and asking: "Do they produce anything that anybody wants?" It seemed to me like it had the stink of death about it from day one.
        Joeviocoe
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Tony Belding
        People still want the full charge in a few minutes... but they don't want it so much that they will ignore the host of other problems with this scheme. You cannot expect success by solving one problem, but introducing two.
        Actionable Mango
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Tony Belding
        Yes, I think people want a full battery in just a few minutes instead of an hour or more. But obviously battery swapping is not the right method. To give BP some credit, swapping might have been the only way to get a full battery in a few minutes back when the company was conceived. But battery technology is catching up and we might get that through charging methods in a few years.
      rubley00
      • 1 Year Ago
      You realize it was for a CA compliance thing right?
      danfred311
      • 1 Year Ago
      Pointing fingers after the ship is sinking is weak and petty. And it fails to identify the true problem which wasn't Shai's overspending, it was the flawed premise. The monopoly needed, the global imposing standard on the car designs, the cost of batteries at each location and sharing batteries between car makers when they swap. It could never work. And I said so from day one. Shai is of course guilty of being blind to these obvious facts, especially when I and others pointed it out often. At some point during those years it should have dawned on him. But all the other dummies involved with Better Place were guilty of the same. The board only reacting when all is lost only clearly demonstrates how incompetent they were. That they then wasted an enormous amount of money on top of the faulty premise only makes the failure that much more spectacular but it was the premise that was the real killer. As Tesla's piss poor bean counting has shown, you can flush down a cool billion and still survive if the premise has long term potential. Shai stepped up to the roulette table and placed a cool billion on **** brown and proudly let it ride. Does that mean new players from now on will ask me what to do? of course not. They will be just as stupid as Shai, with blind faith in their own random judgment. Some of them just get more or less lucky, most others like Coda, Fisker, BP and Detroit Electric just tank as the product of their profoundly flawed thinking. Small players flush down half a billion, big players flush down a cool billion. Even Tesla was very close to dying several times with their profoundly incompetent cost management and lack of design optimization but they managed to pull through with high performance, long range and good looks. And being first and the impressively undaunted drive of Elon Musk. He didn't know what he was doing but he was walking that plank come hell or high water as if it was a bridge to success :) Like divine providence. A resurrection of a phoenix to shatter the pillars of old. Maybe.
      danfred311
      • 1 Year Ago
      I wouldn't count on it. The battery doesn't seem to be built for automatic swapping. Not sure what Tesla is thinking here.
      goodoldgorr
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is the worst thing there is: unsustainable. There is also another unsustainable thing and this is a fast recharging infrastructure with 3 different norm, sae, chademo and supercharger. One day or another bev will be swipe out of business and elon musk will just work for solar city, space x and paypal, gone will be tesla dream. More and more gas car and suv are sold now bigger and bigger and when hydrogen will take off boom forget bev and you can be entilshed of lauphing loudly about shai aggassi for a lifetime of high spirit without alcool or marihuana. Get the real exhilarating drug, the story of better place, talk about it with your friends and family. I was the first here of lauphing about better place right from the beginning, LOL. I was also one of the first to critic cash for clunkers project., happy holiday.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      The whole thing was crazy. The business model just would not work because who wants to buy a big item like a car and then be forever dependent on a single-source as your 'fuel' provider? Yeah, he was saying it was like a cellphone plan but with cellphones you can always switch companies and the worst you can be out is the cost of a cellphone not the cost of whole car. And all you had to do was read the comments sections of places like Auto Blog Green . . . the EV fans did not back the system. Either they didn't like the business plan (like me) or they were not interested in battery swapping (like many others). If you can't sell the system to EV fans then who was going to buy into it?
        Joeviocoe
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Spec
        Very much right... BP certainly was not accepted by the enthusiasts here. 1) Too much concern at treating the battery as a disposable item that drivers should not care if they share with others. But EV batteries are the engine of the car. The bulk of the expense, the bulk of the concern. 2) BP was trying to push for standardization. A swapping service company that wanted call the shots for several automakers about how they must design their vehicles to be compatible. 3) Flat rates regardless of how consumers utilize the swap station. Most EV drivers want to recharge at home, and ditch the centralized model entirely. 4) BIG Assumption that people were so hell bent on keeping a "gas station model" that they would pay extra for it. I think that is a fantasy that Hydrogen lobbyists were selling to keep EVs away from the market, while they peddled the dream of FCVs... and BP bought it hook line and sinker... as they tried to adapt EVs to a centralized system. I do think a battery swap scheme MIGHT be feasible... if... 1) The automaker runs the swap stations.... either solely or via collaboration. No 3rd parties trying to get automakers to change their own EV designs. 2) Given only as a 4th Option, after Home Charging, Public L2, and Fast Charging. The customer only pays if and when it is needed (no subscription). This way, the infrastructure demand won't ever be a burden since only desperate drivers in a rush or on road trips will need swaps. 3) They need to solve the problem of keeping customer batteries assigned to one customer. A battery Loan rather than permanent swap. Tesla's plan meets this quite well. We will see if it takes off. Either way, 135KW Superchargers will be fine.
          Joeviocoe
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Unfortunately Mart.... dealerships are not in good locations for station. The devil is always in the details. For swaps... people want to be inconvenienced for only a few minutes while they travel on a road trip. If they had the time, they would Fast Charge for much cheaper (or supercharge for free). Traveling on the interstate, and pulling off into a Fast Charger/Swap Station right off the highway works. Pulling off, and driving 15-30 minutes out of the way into a town or city to find a dealership? Not gonna work.
          Mart
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Joeviocoe has just outlined the only plan to keep dealerships viable in a world full of EVs. The service departments turn into battery quick swap stations.
        Actionable Mango
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        A dedicated battery swap station seems like a waste. These should have been combined with convenience stores like gas stations are. In this way the investment could also make money from non-EV customers too. I have no idea if that would have helped enough, but it seems like it would have been better than paying an attendant to count ceiling tiles.
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Oh... and 5) There needs to be a schedule for swaps so large number of packs are not sitting around for months waiting for MAYBE someone to come along
      Levine Levine
      • 1 Year Ago
      Better Place is a better scam. Like other scams masqueraded as "Green" business, the only persons who made millions were the scam artists disguised as CEOs. With no design control over the EV battery swap-ability or battery supply, Better Place could not possibly be a viable business model even if the number of EV has reached critical mass. The stupid investors who lost their shirt deserve what they got. As PT Barnum once said, "There's a sucker born every minute."
        danfred311
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Levine Levine
        It was never a scam, that's clueless. But it's an interesting point, just how much Shai got paid during it. He might have gotten 10m$ or even more which is a rather soft landing for doing a rather large money bonfire.
        Spec
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Yeah, it wasn't a scam. They really did build that battery swapping robot, design some things, open sales places, etc. It was just a bad business idea.
      Joeviocoe
      • 1 Year Ago
      Indeed Tesla did demo battery swaps to gain the extra ZEV credits that were available to Fuel Cell Vehicles. But I think Tesla plans to go forward slowly with building a few in California even though they don't get any ZEV credits from CARB for it.
      Actionable Mango
      • 1 Year Ago
      Where is Coolwaters to tell me all I have to do to make a smart investment is to make sure the company is green technology?
      VL00
      • 1 Year Ago
      Battery swapping will never work
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @VL00
        Have you seen the Tesla battery swapping demo?
      GreenDriver
      • 1 Year Ago
      So you buy a brand new Nissan Fluence and the first road trip you take you're supposed to swap out the most expensive component in your car for a battery pack of unknown age and condition; your original pack never to be seen again. No surprise they failed.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @GreenDriver
        No, you could theoretically drive your car forever without ever swapping the battery. The battery swapping was ONLY for long trips between cities. I don't know why everyone is so obsessed with the battery swapping aspect. Well, that may be part of the reason it failed . . . so many people apparently failed to understand their system!
          GreenDriver
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Spec
          I guess you're right, they were just misunderstood.
          GreenDriver
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Spec
          @ Ryan That's really cool, mind telling us how much you paid for your BP pack? What charger do you plan to use? I'm sure the BP BMS uses CAN bus which iyou could use to communicate with a high end charger, like a Brusa for example.
          Joeviocoe
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Spec
          Well, there certainly a lot of confusion... But BP was indeed trying to push the car sales as "batteries not included" and a separate battery lease. And the first time you do need a battery swap, is the last time you will see you battery again. Great concept for components that do not have such a huge expense. But batteries are worth too much to be leasing for hundreds of dollars per month, only to have to switch them out for an unknown pack. The battery lease scheme is a whole different ball game than the swap scheme. It has merits, but disadvantages too.
          Ryan
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Spec
          They failed to show it ever plugged into an EVSE though... Big mistake. The you get into people's obsession with having the one and only battery that came with the car... I won't get into how many EVs and EVSEs that 900 million could buy. But, I was able to get a deal on one of these battery packs to use in my S10 project. :)
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