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Better Place electric car outfit goes titsup

SAP-inspired venture in terminal condition after failing to excite motorists or bankers

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Better Place, the battery-powered car company founded by spurned SAP CEO aspirant Shai Agassi, has filed to wind itself up.

Agassi was SAP's CEO-in-waiting until the company's board extended the contract of incumbent Henning Kagermann. Agassi quit and started Better Place, saying the combination of clever software and a startup mentality were needed to kickstart an electric car industry. Better Place's schtick was cars with replaceable batteries and a network of battery stations where one replace a soon-to-be-depleted battery with a fresh new one. Motorists bought the car, then signed up for batteries-as-a-service plans that meant they could drop in to a battery replacement or charging station on a whim.

That vision helped the company to raise many hundreds of millions of seed capital. Renault clambered aboard too, building the Fluence ZE to Better Place's specifications.

The company opened in Australia, the USA, Demark and Israel but struggled in all markets, sending its CEO's seat swivelling and its cash pile burning.

Over the weekend, current CEO Dan Cohen pulled the plug.

His canned statement says he's tried to turn the company around, but “revenues are still insufficient to cover operating costs, and in the light of the continued negative cash flow position, the Board has decided that it has no option but to seek to make this application to the Courts for an orderly liquidation of the company.”

The company's cash flow position has not been helped by the failure of its latest attempts to raise capital, but the main reason for the failure seems to be indifference from the car-buying public. Here's Cohen's again:

“Unfortunately, after a year’s commercial operation, it was clear to us that despite many satisfied customers, the wider public take up would not be sufficient and that the support from the car producers was not forthcoming.”

Cohen adds that winding the company up will mean the best outcome for employees and owners of the company's cars, as it is hoped the network of charging stations will continue to operate once the company is liquidated.

The Jerusalem Post reports there are only 400 owners of Better Place cars in Denmark, and another 900 in Israel. Cohen said the latter nation became “the first place in which an electrical car could travel without limit”.

For now, it's also the last. ®

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