Palo Alto (3/9/2009) – Better Place
by Jason Levinn -- March 9th, 2009
Morning Visits to Better Place and Tesla Motors
We began our trip at the Palo Alto headquarters of Better Place Inc., an electric vehicle infrastructure company that began operations in October of 2007. After being shown in to a conference room complete with breakfast and coffee, we met Bhavik Joshi of the Global Infrastructure Deployment group. Bhavik was very personable and well versed in Better Place’s business model, and he mentioned that he was employee number fifteen hired to work in the Palo Alto office. He answered as many of our questions as he could, and given the hour we had allotted for the visit, we could have probably spent another one or two hours just chatting about this exciting start-up.
Better Place is one of the most well capitalized start-ups in Silicon Valley today because they chose to pursue one major round of financing ($200 million) early on as opposed to several small rounds. Though this approach has placed a large proportion of ownership in the hands of investors, it has given Better Place the capital to remain aggressive in the economic downturn. Right now they have virtually zero direct competitors in the subscription-based electric vehicle market, which is beginning to take hold in their operating regions such as Israel and Denmark as well as the Bay Area.
Although Joshi indicated that Silicon Valley firms are increasingly “closed for business” these days, he did indicate that for Better Place, 2009-2010 will mark a “phase of execution” regarding their business plans. Other notable announcements included the fact that Denmark plans to showcase its vehicle electrification efforts at this year’s climate talks (COP 15), and a live battery exchange station demonstration in Yokohama, Japan this May.
Joshi also showed us a full size charge spot, which he lovingly called a “zippo.” This zippo is not equipped with any smart technology, because Better Place plans to place the brains of the charging operation in the vehicle with their AutOS system that they have developed for that purpose. Overall the visit was inspiring and informative, and on the way out we happened to pass by Better Place CEO Shai Agassi, which was a thrill for me, given that I am most likely going to be an intern in the Palo Alto office this summer.
- After learning about electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, we rolled down the road to Tesla Motors’ Menlo Park dealership to learn about the cars themselves. Ironically, the dealership is located directly across the street from a gas station and a muffler repair shop, two places that no EV owner would have to worry about. Once inside, we were enchanted by the showroom, which housed several brightly colored Tesla Roadsters. We spent time taking pictures sitting in the roadsters and then the Sales Manager Dan gave us a grand tour of the facility. Formerly a Chevrolet dealership, the Menlo Park location is a final assembly and diagnostics center as well as a showroom for Tesla. We were shown into a garage where employees were building roadsters one at a time. Dan mentioned that Tesla is currently able to build about 20 cars per week and they hope to have built their 250th roadster soon.
Many of our questions centered on the launch and development of Tesla’s up and coming $60,000 Model S Sedan, and Dan informed us that it would be unveiled on March 26th. Another point about the Model S that struck me is that Dan mentioned it would have battery-exchange capability, meaning that perhaps Tesla and Better Place are collaborating in the Bay area. We also pressed Dan to give us a ride in the Roadster but he has strict rules to abide by when it comes the $109,000 vehicles he sells. Cost is perhaps the biggest complaint anyone might have about Tesla’s cars (the battery alone is $25,000-30,000), but their business model has an affordable car in mind eventually. Besides the price tag, the car is flashy, fast (0-60 in 3.9 seconds), reliable (250 mile range on one charge) and clean (zero tailpipe emissions). This was certainly one of our best visits of the trip given that we were able to see one of the many available clean tech solutions in action.