Better Place launches commercial electric vehicles

The move comes five years after company chief Shai Agassi ambitiously set out to change the world’s more than a century of dependence on fossil-fuel-powered transportation.

The firm’s Renault Fluence sedans were first introduced in 2009, and Better Place said some 250 vehicles are already on the road in Israel as fleet and leasing companies as well as private citizens shift to whisper-silent driving.

So far, the company says they have inaugurated 10 battery- charging stations and promise to open 40 more by September.

Since starting out, the company has also tested out its vehicles and recharge facilities in Australia, Denmark, Japan and the United States.

Better Place told Xinhua that the cars’ floor-mounted battery packs are robotically charged out in less time than an average gas station fill-up, and boast low running costs, zero emissions and silent motors, and cutting gasoline dependence.

So far, Better Place is pitching two payment methods: "Pay as You Go," which charge customers 15 cents per kilometer, provided they put on at least 1,000 kilometers monthly, and "Pay and Drive, " which charge customers 12 cents per kilometer, provided they pay up front for 40,000 km over a three-year period, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Buyers can also purchase the battery outright and avoid relying on the company’s charging services.

Taking one its vehicles out for a spin, Xinhua found the upscale, well-appointed sedan relatively easy to charge up and run, while not mistaking the silence after hitting the "start" button for a stalled engine.

Meanwhile, developers of electric-powered vehicles worldwide are seeking the holy grail for rechargeable cars: getting a solid 500 kilometers out a single charge. The goal, once reached, could be the tipping point in convincing motorists worldwide to finally ditch the gas-guzzler.

A recently-inaugurated Israeli center has set their sights on helping shape national energy policies toward reaching that ambitious goal.

The National Center for Electrochemical Propulsion, founded several months ago, is about to start work towards that goal, on an annual 45 million NIS (11.7 million U.S. dollars) budget for the next four years, according to an Israeli new-tech website.

At least a dozen teams at Tel Aviv University, The Israel Institute of Technology, Bar Ilan University and Ariel University Center of Samaria hope to figure out how to significantly improve a car battery’s ability to store and release a far larger charge, the No Camel’s site reports.

"Oil has no future, both because of politics and because of future shortages," said Prof. Doron Urbach from Bar Ilan’s Department of Chemistry, who chairs the center.

While the Better Place system is showing promise, the Fluence’ range, battery weight and performance still leave something to be desired.

"Today, a battery like the one Better Place uses in its electric cars weighs 300 kg, enough for a 150 kilometer drive. Our aim is to extend that range without additional weight and volume," Urbach said.

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