by Brian Blum
The Tesla 3 has grabbed the spotlight as the first “affordable” all-electric vehicle, but Israel’s Better Place came first.
The plan was to use Israel — a country the size of New Jersey and dubbed “the Startup Nation” — to prove electric cars could work everywhere. Instead of fast charge, Better Place addressed range anxiety by building a network of battery-swap stations — operated by robots. Better Place’s charismatic CEO Shai Agassi believed his company’s innovative technology could help stop climate change and free nations from the yoke of oil dependence. His magnetic television appearances, viral TED Talk and compelling boardroom presence had investors and business leaders worldwide jumping in to ride shotgun. Countries from Japan to Denmark to Australia signed on and the privately-held Better Place raised nearly a billion dollars.
Yet in a few years, it was all over — the company, buffeted by internal strife, an international corporate spy scandal, the Great Recession and technology disruptions, went bankrupt. The story of the “electric car unicorn that collapsed” is a cautionary tale; a timely case study filled with valuable lessons for entrepreneurs, investors and executives in businesses of all sizes — as well as everyone chasing the electric car Holy Grail.