Better Place, a Palo Alto company that in recent years has become synonymous with the city's drive to promote electric vehicles, plans to shutter its local headquarters in the coming months and focus its energies on Israel and Denmark.
The company installs networks of car-charging stations and battery-swap stations (most notably in Israel and Denmark). It announced that it is putting on hold its efforts in the United States and in Australia so that it can focus on the two nations where its technologies are already in use.
The company has raised about $750 million since its founding in 2007 and plans to leave its Embarcadero Way headquarters in the next few months, said John Proctor, company spokesman. The precise timing of the office closure is unknown because the company is "doing an orderly wind-down" and honoring its commitments to partners and suppliers, he added.
Since its inception, Better Place has enjoyed a reputation as one of the hottest and most promising electric-vehicle pioneers to set up shop in Palo Alto. The city has aggressively promoted electric vehicles as part of its broader initiative to curb climate change -- an effort that has included installing charging stations in local garages and welcoming recent arrivals such as Fisker and Tesla. (The city's sense of pride in electric vehicles is reflected in the fact that Tesla will host Mayor Greg Scharff's "State of the City" speech next Wednesday, Feb. 27).
Better Place's departure from Palo Alto will no doubt put a dent it in the city's reputation as ground zero for electric-vehicle innovation. Founded by former SAP employee Shai Agassi, the company has stood out by focusing its efforts not on electrical vehicles themselves but on alleviating drivers' anxieties about running out of juice. Better Place has also worked with car companies, including Nissan and Renault, to make electric vehicles more accessible.
While Better Place is winding down its American activities, the company remains committed to its ongoing operations in Denmark and Israel, where its efforts have already made a mark. In an email, Proctor told the Weekly that the company still believes in its long-term potential in North America and is "leaving the door open to resume activities in the U.S. after proving scalability in Denmark and Israel, as circumstances permit."
"We have customers on the road using our fully operational, nationwide networks in Denmark and Israel," Proctor wrote. "The time has come to focus and to demonstrate to our customers, suppliers and investors that we have a sustainable, scalable model. This means all energy and resources go into these two countries in the short term."
He declined to say how many jobs would be impacted by the closure of the headquarters, noting only that the company's operations "already were relatively lean in the U.S."
The company's transition is unlikely to surprise industry observers. While the Better Place has been aggressively pursuing its mission in Israel and Denmark, some of its ambitious plans for California and Australia have not been realized. In a 2009 interview, Better Place officials told the Weekly they were hoping to install charging-station networks in California and in Australia by as early as 2012. That infrastructure has not materialized.
The company has also seen a leadership shake-up in recent months, with Agassi resigning from the CEO position last October and his successor, Eric Thornley, leaving last month. The company's new CEO, Dan Cohen, maintained in a statement last week that the company has demonstrated that it "works as a concept."
"We need to prove to our customers, suppliers and investors that we have a sustainable, scalable model," Cohen said. "To do so we are now focusing on realizing the full potential of what we have built, and that means concentrating our resources and energy in the near term, on Denmark and Israel, where we have customers on the road enjoying our switching and charging stations."
"At the same time, we had to make some difficult decisions on actions to be taken elsewhere in the world," Cohen said.