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Rude awakening on electric car dreams

A demonstration recharge point by Better Place. Now the project is in doubt in Canberra.

A demonstration recharge point by Better Place. Now the project is in doubt in Canberra.

Canberra's promised electric car network faces an uncertain future after the Israel-based company behind the scheme announced it was moving its focus from Australia.

Better Place has also parted ways with its high-profile global chief executive, Australian Evan Thornley, and has lost nearly $500 million since it launched in 2008.

There are fears for the company's Australian workers after recent lay-offs at Better Place operations in Denmark and Israel.

Mr Thornley was the public face of the company when it launched its Canberra network of recharging points for electric cars amid much fanfare in July 2011 with the ACT government, electricity retailer ActewAGL and Rock Development Group to build the infrastructure.

ActewAGL was also one of several investors to take part in Better Place's $25 million capital raising exercise in 2009. Canberra's dominant power retailer has a $60 million, 10-year deal with Better Place to supply electricity for the network.

But only 13 of the promised 16 recharging ports have materialised around the capital, despite a power giveaway deal announced last month.

The company's commitment to Australia appears much less certain after it issued a statement saying it would slow development here.

''From the global perspective, the Better Place strategy has not changed and expanding globally remains the plan,'' its statement read.

''There has been a recent shift to focus on the markets where networks are deployed and cars are on the road, currently Denmark and Israel. This requires focused resource allocation and management attention which will result in slowing down pace in other markets for a while. Australia is an important front and an attractive market, which Better Place plans to cultivate as soon as we are ready.''

To questions on Tuesday about the uncertainty affecting its partner, ActewAGL said the two companies were in ''contact''.

''ActewAGL is aware of the recent changes to the senior management of Better Place at a global level,'' a spokeswoman said. ''We remain in contact with Better Place Australia about these changes and their ongoing plans for the rollout of electric vehicle infrastructure in the ACT.

''Canberra remains a very attractive market for the deployment of electric vehicles, as shown by some key indicators including household income, the number of two-car families, availability of off-street parking and average distance travelled per annum.

''Any questions regarding Better Place Australia's operations and future plans should be directed to Better Place Australia's media team.''

A spokesman for ACT Minister for Sustainable Development Simon Corbell said the government remained committed to working with Better Place Australia ''to deliver Australia's first electric car charge network''.

''There has been no specific information to suggest that Better Place Australia will no longer provide this network as previously announced and the government will continue to work constructively with Better Place to ensure that this project can be rolled out in the national capital,'' he said.

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