Evan Thornley.

Evan Thornley in better times at Better Place. Photo: Jim Rice

About 40 jobs will go at the Australian operations of electric-car support company Better Place unless new investors can be found following the decision by the firm’s Israel-based parent to focus on Israel and Denmark.

News that the local operations would be shuttered sent shockwaves through the nascent electric car industry in Australia, which still numbers only in the low hundreds of vehicles despite global car makers vowing to ramp up production of the potentially low-emission models.

Better Place ruled out any political interference for the parent company’s decision to halt support.

Its management team includes Ben Keneally, husband of former NSW premier Kristina Keneally. Former Victorian ALP MP Evan Thornley steered the local operations before heading overseas to briefly head the global operations before quitting last month.

The local company has installed about 150 of its battery charge sites around Australia, mostly in its base of Melbourne, but also in Sydney, Canberra and the Hunter Valley. Plans to open its first battery-switching operation in Canberra are now in doubt.

“We anticipate that Better Place will begin working towards an orderly wind-down of our operations here in Australia,” spokeswoman Felicity Glennie-Holmes said. “Our priority will be to manage this process appropriately and fulfil our obligations to all our stakeholders.”

Better Place is considering whether to offer a refund to customers, believed to number slightly more than 100, or alternative services depending on whether a buyer for the assets can be found.

One of Better Place’s selling-points was its promise to manage the battery – typically one of the most expensive components of an electric vehicle – by monitoring and controlling charging using sophisticated software.

That service is likely to cease and it will be up to owners of charge points, such as a string of hotels, to decide whether they continue to offer the plug-in service.

The industry’s promise prompted investors such as Lend Lease and RACV to pump in $25 million in 2009.

James Brown, chief executive of rival operator, ChargePoint, said the electric car industry was slowing gaining traction with demand likely to scale up as fleet buyers enter the market.

“Our confidence is still very, very high,” Mr Brown said, noting major carmakers continue to pour billions of dollars into the development of electric vehicles.