Better Place raises $200M, boasts $2.25B valuation

Better Place, which hopes to build an empire of electric car charging and battery swapping stations, said Friday it has closed a $200 million funding round that will bring the company’s valuation to $2.25 billion. The Silicon Valley startup has raised more than $750 million, and included new investors GE and UBS in its latest round.
The funds will help Better Place finally move into commercial service, and the company is launching its very first live networks in Israel and Denmark “early next year.” The company, founded in 2007, was hoping to launch in Israel and Denmark before the end of this year. It now plans to also start service in Australia in the second quarter of next year.
Better Place has signed a lot of agreements with governments and businesses around the world to bring its battery swapping and charging stations. But so far it’s been doing pilot projects.
The startup has garnered a lot of spotlight for its idea for replacing depleted electric car batteries with fully-charged ones. It started talking about it at a time when no major carmakers were selling electric cars, and it faced a lot of skepticism about the mechanic of the switching operations — how quickly can the swap be done and what if automakers don’t standardize their battery size and configurations and whether consumers will be willing to change how they “fill up” their cars. Some of the questions still remain.
But Better Place isn’t forgoing the idea of charging stations and plans to include them in its rollout. It plans to sell subscriptions to consumers for using any of its battery replacement and charging stations. The company has lined up the Renault-Nissan Alliance to co-market their products and services, and Renault has designed its Fluenz Z.E. to make its battery easily replaced.
Only a few automakers have launched electric cars for the masses. Nissan and General Motors launched the all-electric LEAF and plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, respectively, last year. Ford is due to launch an all-electric Focus soon. Tesla has sold over 1,600 Roadsters and plans to launch its sedan the Model S next Summer.
Better Place and its peers are only starting to roll out charging networks, and already technology development is underway that aims to replace current charging formats. Wireless charging has grabbed a lot of attention lately. Chip company Qualcomm announced the acquisition of HaloIPT earlier this year and plans to license the company’s wireless car charging technology. Fast charging could also eclipse battery swapping if the technology can deliver.