The turmoil in the electric-car industry continues unabated and has claimed a high-profile pioneer, as Tel Aviv-based Better Place named a replacement for the company’s founder Shai Agassi as chief executive officer.
Agassi was considered something of a visionary in the EV business for developing a business model that had drivers swapping rather than recharging batteries.
“Over the past five years, Agassi has pioneered an innovative technology solution aimed at making electric cars more affordable and more convenient than gasoline cars,” the electric vehicle start-up company said in a statement.
“Under Shai’s leadership, we’ve successfully achieved our goals in the first chapter of Better Place, and we owe Shai our gratitude for turning his powerful vision into a reality,” said Idan Ofer, Chairman of the Better Place board of directors. Agassi was replaced by Evan Thornley, the CEO of Better Place of Australia.
Almost exactly five year after Agassi launched Better Place –lining up high-profile support from the likes of fellow EV proponent Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of the Renault/Nissan Alliance, the Israeli firm said it was a “natural point…to realign for its second chapter.”
While the timing was something of a surprise, the succession from Agassi to Thornley was not. He has been an active member of the battery car firm since shortly after its launch.
“In his four years as CEO of Better Place in Australia, Evan has built an impressive track record, particularly around establishing a strong set of industry partners there. Evan brings the right combination of entrepreneurship and coalition and team building to take Better Place to the next level,” Ofer continued.
Thornley also was instrumental in the creation of EV Engineering Ltd., a collaborative venture between global automotive leaders, to develop and create switchable-battery electric car technology. An entrepreneur at heart, Thornley founded one of the first Australian technology companies to be listed on the NASDAQ.
Agassi founded Better Place in 2007 with the ambitious goal of replacing the world’s gas pumps with battery-swapping stations for electric cars. But despite vast publicity, the idea has gained little traction so far.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Better Place had posted $477 million in cumulative losses since the beginning of 2010. The paper reported that the firm has $181 million in cash reserves, which at the current rate of spending would last less than five more quarters.
Agassi amassed more than $800 million in private capital since the company’s founding. He used lofty rhetoric about the need to rid the world of its addiction to oil to persuade investors and powerful leaders to back his plan.
Better place has opened 24 battery swapping stations in Israel, and 12 in Denmark but has fewer than 1,000 customers total in both countries.
Under Agassi, Better Place has worked closely with Renault/Nissan, which is facing its own difficulties in launching its electric vehicle business. While Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn set a target of doubling global Leaf sales in the current fiscal year that runs through March 2013, Leaf sales are up only 9% in total and have fallen 27% in the U.S.
During a discussion with TheDetroitBureau.com last week, Ghosn acknowledged he is “disappointed” with sales results so far – but quickly insisted, “We will be patient.” The maker is set to launch production of the Leaf on a new assembly line at its Smyrna, Tennessee manufacturing complex, in December, and insists that will help charge up sales.
(Ghosn disappointed with EV sales but still sees a bright future. Click Here for more.)
Unfortunately for Agassi, Better Place appears to have run out of patience and will hope a new management team can forestall the company’s collapse.
Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.