The range on the Better Place car's battery is only 80 miles or so, but the company created a charging infrastructure here in Israel that included hundreds of public electrical outlets. In addition, robots were installed at dozens of service stations that could extract the used battery from underneath the car and replace it with a fresh one in about five minutes.
The idea was to put an end to so-called range anxiety, which has long been offered as an explanation for why electric cars have failed to catch on with consumers. With the Better Place network, a driver could easily navigate from, say, Tel Aviv to the resort town of Eilat, a little over 200 miles away, with only 15 minutes or so in stops.
"The technology worked, customers were satisfied," says Pross, who in addition to being this particular car's owner was a Better Place employee from 2008 until the bitter end, the company's bankruptcy declaration in May 2013. He sounds heartbroken. "It would have been a revolution."
Better Place was born to be revolutionary, the epitome of the kind of world-changing ambition that routinely gets celebrated. The idea was to sell millions of electric vehicles in his home country and around the world. He implied that converting to electric cars was the moral equivalent of the abolition of human slavery and that it would usher in a new Industrial Revolution.
"Everything we needed to go right went wrong," says one former employee. "Every cost on our spreadsheet wound up being double, every time factor took twice as long." There was profligacy, marketing problems, hiring problems, problems with every conceivable part of the business. There was questionable oversight by the company's board of directors. There was bad luck. And there was hubris. "There was nothing normal about Better Place," says Pross. "It was spectacular."