SOUTHFIELD, MI – Better Place is writing “safety net” software to calm electric-vehicle owners who fear drained batteries will leave them stranded on the roadside.
The software will tether EVs to a network of Better Place plug-in points or battery-switch depots, says Jeff Curry, product marketing director at the California-based EV services provider.
“(Each vehicle) is always in communication, in real time, so that we can understand the condition of the battery,” Curry says. “It’s sort of a safety net to help eliminate some of that anxiety about, ‘Where do I get a charge?’”
Globally, some 30 highway-capable electric vehicles are scheduled to debut by 2012. And those depending solely on electricity are expected to have a single-charge range of 100 to 300 miles (160 km to 482 km).
Under these conditions, so-called range anxiety – the never-ending apprehension over a battery’s juice level – will be a genuine phenomenon, even though charge-station providers envision a landscape featuring more than 1 million plug-in places in the U.S. alone.
“It’s a concern,” Curry tells Ward’s in an interview. “It’s not something you think about using your gas cars today.”
So Better Place is integrating its battery-monitoring software with a navigation function that locates sites where motorists can recharge.
“If you set a destination, we can plot your personal energy route,” Curry says. And if congestion warrants, according to real-time traffic conditions, that route could be altered accordingly.
Because Better Place expects next-generation EVs will allow for quick battery swaps at stations akin to today’s oil-change depots, the software also will be programmed to reserve charged batteries.
Like its competitor, Aerovironment Inc., Better Place anticipates battery-only EVs will outnumber plug-in hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles, both of which employ gasoline-driven engines for supplemental propulsion or power generation.
“That’s where the direction is going because of the complexity” of building vehicles with two power sources, Curry says.
But Henrik, founder of niche-market Fisker Automotive Inc., pours water on the importance of public charging stations, predicting consumers will prefer plug-ins and EREVs to battery-only EVs.
“Our investors and I and a lot of other marketing surveys believe that plug-in hybrids will clearly become the dominant vehicle in the future,”tells Ward’s. “And the reason is very simple. There are still houses in the world that don’t have electricity. But there are gas stations around the corner.”
Consumers who buy plug-ins or EREVs will charge their vehicles at home or at work. And when their batteries are drained, they will fall back on what is familiar – the gas pump.
Says Fisker: “What is the car really all about? It’s about freedom. It’s about going as far as you want, whenever you want. That’s what you can do with a plug-in hybrid. You can go your 50 miles (80 km) on electric, which is what most people will do. But you want to have that option if one day you want to drive on vacation or go and visit somebody who’s 600 miles (965 km) away, you can do it.”
Fisker, whose company is scheduled to introduce the Karma EREV next year and has confirmed plans to debut two additional electrified vehicles by 2012, also is cool to the notion of switchable batteries. Vehicle-design variations will preclude easy management of a swapping station, at least in the near-term, he says.
But Better Place fully expects a “multitude” of design variations, Curry says. “We can have an inventory of all those types of batteries.”
Better Place argues its switchable-battery business model actually will reduce the cost of EV ownership because those components will be leased.
“We’ve completely divorced the cost of the battery from the cost of the vehicle,” Curry says, adding Better Place will market battery subscriptions akin to wireless plans.
“As a consumer, I don’t want to own something that has a declining lifecycle. I’d rather pay for it on a use-basis.”
In another nod to the wireless industry, EV battery charging eventually may be conducted in this way, he adds.
“There are examples of that today for cell phones,” Curry says. “You put it on a pad (to recharge). They’re not sufficient to charge an electric vehicle. That doesn’t mean, in the future, that type of charger couldn’t develop. But it’s very much in the lab right now.”
Better Place plans its first nationwide infrastructure rollout in 2011. Israel will be the first country to benefit.
Meanwhile,SA, which has been working with Better Place, reportedly will unveil three EVs at next month’s Frankfurt Auto Show. And Better Place will have a display adjacent to the Renault stand.