Better Place Denmark Plan Gives Glimpse of Battery Exchange Cost

By John O'Dell March 4, 2011

Providing the best look yet at what a plug-in vehicle battery exchange program might cost if introduced in the U.S., industry trailblazer Better Place said that its program in Denmark will provide drivers of properly equipped electric cars unlimited access to home and public charging and freshly charged battery packs whenever needed for the equivalent of 399 euros ($551) a month.

BetterPlaceTokyoStation2.jpgBetter Place's battery exchange station and a specially equipped "battery-swap" taxi in in Tokyo.

Coupled with partner Renault's announced pricing of its Fluence Z.E. swappable battery sedan at 27,496 euros ($37,962) before any incentives - a price that doesn't include the battery pack -  the program could save Danish EV drivers from 10 percent to 20 percent a year on total vehicle and fuel costs versus similarly sized and equipped gasoline cars, said Better Place spokeswoman Julie Mullins. The cost of electricity is included in the monthly fee, she said.

Gasoline in Denmark now sells for almost $8 a gallon and because of the country's tax policies mid-size cars such as the Toyota Avensis that would compete with the Fluence can easily cost from 40,000 to 48,000 euros ($55,225 - $66,660). 

Removing the expensive lithium-ion battery pack from the selling price of the car and bundling it into a monthly "fuel" lease has enabled Renault and Better Place to set a competitive price for their combined products, Mullins said.

Most of the savings Better Place claims for the Fluence-charging services package would come from the lower vehicle purchase costs.

Our computations, based on $8 a gallon gas, a 41 mpg rating for the 1.8-liter gasoline Avensis and 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles) of annual driving, show annual fuel costs for the Toyota would be around $2,400 versus a $4,200 annual cost for a 20,000 kilometer Better Place annual access package and the 114-mile range of the Fluence Z.E.

An apples-to-apples comparison is difficult, however, because the higher monthly cost for the Better Place package includes the battery pack, which is a key part of the Fluence's powertrain - the car won't work without it. 

Better Place, which is partnering with Renault on nationwide EV programs in both Denmark and Israel, will offer several lower-cost "mobility services" packages that include charging and battery swapping for Danish drivers who don't want the unlimited monthly access. 

Those packages would be based on annual mileage - drivers would purchase packages providing service for ranges of travel from 10,000-30,000 kilometers per year (6,200-18,600 miles) at monthly costs equivalent to $277 to $462. Extra charges would apply if drivers exceeded the mileage in their services agreement.   

RenaultFluenceZE.jpgA Renault Fluence Z.E. battery-electric sedan.

Each package would include a home charger - at a one-time charge of 1,341 euros ($1,854) -  plus access via a radio frequency identity card to Better Place public chargers and battery swap stations and in-car informatics that would track mileage and help plan trips around available charging and battery swap points.

California-based Better Place has not announced plans for a U.S. program, but its Danish program serves as a template for the company's pricing plans for most markets.

In Israel, where it has also teamed with Renault, the program won't be quite the same because Renault doesn't have an Israeli dealership network, so Better Place will be importing and selling the Fluence Z.E. electric cars bundles with its own battery charging and exchange services. 

Pricing there isn't slated to be announced until later this summer, Mullins said.

Bot the Danish and Israeli retail program are scheduled to begin late this year.

Better Place late last year announced plans to install a pair of battery swap stations on the heavily traveled San Francisco-San Jose corridor in Northern California in a test program that would serve a local taxi fleet's electric cabs. The company has a single exchange station working with three battery-electric cabs in a Tokyo test and is working in Australia and several other countries to develop pilot programs.

One drawback to its battery exchange plan is that it requires automakers - a notoriously independent bunch - to agree on common standards for pug-in vehicle battery packs that can be installed and removed from beneath a vehicle.

So far, Renault is the only company building cars with battery packs that work with Better Place's automated exchange stations, although several other automakers, including Tesla Motors, have said they'll design future cars to use swappable batteries.

(Note: Denmark's official currency is the Danish Krone, valued at today's exchange rate at 7.45 krone per euro or 5.39 krone per U.S. dollar.)       

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