VC Funds Plugging into Electric Car Charging Stations

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A group of equity investors led by HSBC agreed this week to provide $350 million in funding to electric vehicle infrastructure start-up Better Place, which plans to deploy nationwide networks of charging points and battery exchange stations in Israel and Denmark by the end of 2011, with smaller regional networks in Australia and California the following year.

Better Place, based in Palo Alto, CA, says it is the world’s leading electric vehicle (EV) services provider, catalyzing the transition to sustainable transportation. The company, which has raised a total of $700-million in venture funding thus far, is developing and deploying EV driver services, systems and infrastructure.

What the company calls “subscribers and guests” will have access to a network of charge spots, switch stations and systems which optimize the driving experience and minimize environmental impact and cost.

“Better Place is a huge experiment in how you sell and fuel vehicles, and these investors are becoming convinced this will make money,” said Rod Lache, an analyst at Deutsche Bank told The New York Times. “It is a financial validation. Now we need to see technical validation and consumer validation.”

According to reports, thus far only one automaker—Renault-Nissan has expressed support  for Better Place’s battery exchange concept. Renault has committed to producing a single electric vehicle model with swappable batteries. Several other automakers have described the idea as unworkable while advanced battery technology is still in development. Many of the batteries that the automakers are deploying have liquid cooling systems and are being designed as an integral part of the vehicle structure.

At a press conference on Monday, Better Place CEO Shai Agassi said the company expects to raise enough money to allow the company to operate and deploy until it reaches profitability in 2013. Agassi is an Israeli-American software executive who founded the company in 2007.

“We’ve demonstrated that our network is deployable,” Agassi said.

However, analysts indicated that a successful charging network will require billions more in financing. In addition to the $125 million from HSBC, $225 million will come from Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Lazard Asset Management and Better Place’s original investors, which include Israeli companies and VantagePoint Venture Partners in Silicon Valley.

Better Place is scheduled to make its commercial debut in 2011 in Israel and Denmark.

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