Electric cars and flat batteries

Following the collapse of better Place, the current edition of the Economist has a leading article (here, possibly behind a paywall) which is pretty direct about the situation:

Does this failure matter? Not that much. The main reason why Better Place failed seems to have been bad management. In 2009 it struck a deal with Renault to sell 100,000 electric cars with swappable batteries by 2016; it sold just 1,300. It failed to get other carmakers to make vehicles with swappable batteries, restricting its subscribers’ choice.

I understand that not only did Better Place sign up to sell that (ridiculously?) high number of cars, but it agreed to pay penalties if it failed to do so. Therefore, even if the company had continued to improve its dreadful sales performance, there was a big bag of money going out the door to Renault.

As the Economist points out – rightly I think – non electric cars are improving their emissions performance all the time, and while electric cars are probably here to stay, and part of the future, they are unlikely to be the “whole answer”.

Some people have said Better place failed because of the lack of governmental support. So, it’s worthwhile noting these comments from the piece:

…the wise thing for politicians would be to set overall emissions targets, and leave the risk to businesspeople. Wherever this has been tried, in Europe, America, Japan and more recently China, carmakers have grumbled: but they have responded—most notably by squeezing more efficiency out of the century-old internal-combustion engine.

And, commenting on past, present, and proposed support, the Economist reverts to the cold, hard logic of the marketplace:

Such subsidies make little sense. If governments want to cut emissions it would be better, say, to pay people to insulate their homes. Better Place achieved little in its brief, expensive life. But if its failure, despite having such weighty backers (including GE and HSBC), persuades governments of the folly of picking winners, it will not have died in vain.

I suspect that – notwithstanding that last observation – the Israeli government could have done much to help Better Place. Unfortunately, that probably would not have changed the eventual outcome. Without decent sales, it had no chance. With only one car type available, it had no chance of decent sales. As for the management, others better placed (sic) than me can comment. I do pity the customers who bought into the idea.