Quoted: on Better Place, which could’ve been an electric-car contender

“It would have been a revolution.”

Guy Pross, owner of a Renault Fluence Z.E. sedan — the only vehicle that worked with the now-defunct Better Place’s electric-car platform. Pross was also an employee of Better Place, the startup founded in Palo Alto by the ambitious Shai Agassi. OK, so ambitious is an understatement; Max Chafkin writes for Fast Company that Agassi had “a bit of a Steve Jobs complex.”

Agassi and Better Place’s vision of affordable electric vehicles for all attracted plenty of attention — and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding — for a while. But Fast Company’s look at the company’s rise and fall shows that investors eventually lost patience and confidence after five years of lots of talk (and spending) but, eventually, not enough action. Better Place ended up getting only about 1,400 cars on the road by the time of the company’s liquidation last year, according to Fast Company. Agassi had over-promised — from the supposedly low price of the cars to high estimates of production — and under-delivered.

Last May, Better Place (which had moved to Israel) filed to dissolve the company. But Agassi wasn’t — and probably isn’t — done talking about his vision for electric vehicles and the future of cars.

Dana Hull wrote for SiliconBeat about Agassi’s LinkedIn treatise in August, in which he, among other things, advises Detroit and other automakers to pay close attention to what Tesla is doing. “If Captain Musk allows you to peek onto his boat and monitor his instruments you should also take advantage to learn the ocean currents and wind pattern he’s mapping along the course,” Agassi wrote. Speaking of lessons, Chafkin writes in the Fast Company piece that Tesla — which plans to introduce a more affordable electric car — and other electric-car makers might want to learn from Better Place’s mistakes.


Photo: Shai Agassi in San Jose in February 2009. (Dai Sugano/Mercury News)


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  • It probably didn’t help to limit consumer choice the way Better Place did. After all, that job is already taken by governments that seem to regulate everything they can from sunrise to sunset. Putting legs under ambition isn’t the same as putting words under it.