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Better Place Opens Battery Swap Network

Better Place, the electric vehicle venture started by entrepreneur Shai Agassi, has opened its first publicly available battery switching stations, where drivers can swap out a discharged pack for a fully charged one in less time than it takes to fill up a conventional car with gasoline.

The four Better Place battery stations are in central and northern Israel. Later this year, 40 stations are expected to be operating across the country, the Associated Press reported.

This year Better Place is also set to expand its network of battery swapping stations into Denmark and into Australia, its first major market. Stations in Amsterdam are expected to follow the Denmark deployment, the Associated Press reported.

Small-scale projects are already operating in Hawaii and California, and Better Place plans to deploy and operate four battery switch stations to support a fleet of electric taxis in the San Francisco to San Jose corridor. Announcing the Bay Area stations in 2010, the company said deployment would take three years.

Better Place has taken a different route than other EV startups. The company abandoned the fixed battery and instead has opted to build a network of stations where drivers can receive a full 100-mile range battery in five minutes. Better Place owns the batteries, which has helped push down the purchase price of the EVs that can use the network.

Renault-Nissan, which has a partnership with Better Place, has started to sell a sedan customized to use the stations. The Renault Fluence is priced at about $32,000 in Israel and about 140 are on the road there, mostly driven by Better Place employees. But interest in the cars appears to be high: leasing companies have ordered 1,800 vehicles and Better Place expects 5,000 to be on the road by the end of the year.

Better Place delivered its first 10 cars in Israel to businesses last January. The company plans to initially target fleet sales to companies, Gigaom reported earlier this year. Better Place told Gigaom at the time that it had 250 companies signed on as corporate customers, and planned 80,000 cars.

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