Better Place, Renault: Let a 100,000 Electric Cars Bloom

shai-agassiBetter Place, the ambitious San Francisco electric vehicle service company, has teamed up with French car company Renault to bring 100,000 electric cars, and the network to charge them, to the streets of Israel and Denmark by 2016.

Better Place will build a network of electric charging stations, including high-voltage quick charge terminals and its patented battery-swapping hubs. Renault, in turn, will install Better Place electric vehicle support software AutOS in the Fluence ZE, an electric car it plans to introduce in the two postage-stamp sized countries, and 18 others, in 2011.

The Better Place software, introduced at the Frankfurt Auto Show this month, helps drivers figure out when and where to recharge their vehicles. This is a key component of the hoped-for electric car revolution, since once the battery dies in an EV, it can take hours to get it going again, unlike in gasoline-fueled vehicles.

“Carlos, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…”

Renault’s CEO Carlos Ghosn decided early on to leapfrog over hybrid technology and put the car maker’s resources into all-electric cars instead. Renault owns 44% of Japanese car maker Nissan, which is introducing the Leaf all-electric car next year, and the Renault side is planning its own line up of EVs to roll out in the next couple years.

Better Place meanwhile has staked its future existence on the acceptance and growth of electric vehicles, so the partnership between the two should not come as a surprise: both companies need each other to push the electric car idea into the mainstream — and profitability.

Israeli-born Better Place CEO Shai Agassi has said that by 2020, half of all cars sold in countries with Better Place infrastructures will be EVs with swappable batteries, according to Fast Company.

Agassi does not appear to be related to tennis great Andre Agassi.

Not Quite There Yet, However

The deal with Better Place will center around the Renault prototype Fluence ZE, seen above parked at an imaginary waterfront park. The electric Fluence will have a range of 100 miles after an 8 hour charge, brought down to 3 hours at high-voltage charging stations, twenty minutes for a 80% partial recharge, and 3 minutes to replace the battery at a Better Place swapping station. Or so says Ghosn: real world performance could differ.

Whether the swapping station concept will work out is still up in the air; many auto executives view the idea with skepticism. And then there’s all the usual problems associated with electric vehicles: charge time, range, cost, etc.

For a spirited rebuttal of the EV naysayers, however, see “It’s Over: Five Reasons the Electric Car Wins,” on Triple Pundit.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.