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back to article Better Place electric car outfit goes titsup

Better Place, the battery-powered car company founded by spurned SAP CEO aspirant Shai Agassi, has filed to wind itself up. Agassi was SAP's CEO-in-waiting until the company's board extended the contract of incumbent Henning Kagermann. Agassi quit and started Better Place, saying the combination of clever software and a startup …

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FAIL

Chicken, Meet Egg.

See Title ^

It is one of those cases where it's a good idea on paper, but in reality won't work unless there is 100% of the infrastructure in place and ready for the public, plus a mandated requirement by governments for car manufacturers to conform to the specification required for the battery swapping tech, and we all know how well that will go down. Each manufacturer will want their own spec, hell, you can't even swap the batteries on a leccy car as it is!

Not to mention, In Australia, the idea is practically useless outside a major metropolitan area, apart from the self-charge fallback which makes the idea no better than a built-in battery.

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Re: Chicken, Meet Egg.

"It is one of those cases where it's a good idea on paper"

turns out to be shite in reality.

it's an electric car FFS!

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Re: Chicken, Meet Egg.

Its not a good idea even on paper. Only works in wet dreams of armchair environmentalists.

$0.23/mile lease on battery is $11.50/gallon at 50 MPG. The Better Place "solution" consumes 3-4x the resources of less expensive readily available more flexible solutions. Consumers really are smarter than wishful thinking environmentalists. Better Place is proof that consumers are better environmentalists than environmentalists.

Leasing the battery only forces economic realization of the true daily cost. I can lease a whole Prius for less than Better Price's battery-only lease. Heck, I can get a Mercedes Benz M-class for less.

Until costs (and therefor resource consumption) is close to par for conventional (and hybrid) vehicles "solutions" such as offered by Better Place are no more than indulgences for the affluent.

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Re: Chicken, Meet Egg.

Had the Internet existed when the petroleum-powered horseless carriage was being pioneered, I'm sure that existing horse-drawn carriage owners would have been saying something similar.

"These contraptions are a solution looking for a problem, what-ho."

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Coat

Re: Chicken, Meet Egg.

I thought they did that anyway when the motor car first started to appear (Flame me if I am wrong, as I am getting my flame retardent coat)?

People didnt suddenly rush out to buy them, it took a while and required the price come down to where it was less expensive to run a car than some horses, its stables, etc...

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Re: Chicken, Meet Egg.

The car offered a solution for quite a few problems (Including horse apples) and was as good as (and quickly better) than a rich mans carriage and had a lot of easily visible potential like greater strength / endurance. And replacing the horse was considered progressive back then.

The E-Vehicles have none of that. They have to compete with a mature, easy to use and widly introduced / available technology without any benefit. Current cars have better range, quicker refueling, lower costs in purchase and use over 5+ years, better infrastructure

Let's take me as an example. In theorie I could use a current electric car since my daily drive is rarely greater than 50km. BUT:

I can not recharge the car at my flat since I park in a underground garage with NO power outlets (Part of the building I live in with 50 other families)

I can not recharge at my job since the parking lot is in a shared parking building without power again

Most of my friends and co-workers live similar to me (or even without a permanent parking space) - no recharge

=> Where do I recharge?

And this is not uncommon. Large corporations have parking lots/buildings with three and four digit numbers of parking spaces and the infrastructure can not support that many cars charging. Many people life in flats (More than 50 percent of the germans i.e) and have no garage nor a permanent parking place so again - no power. And the infrastructure is based on "planned/existing buildings" not on "buildings + cars" so again the switches/lines on the local level will not have the capacities

A classic car on the other hand - there is a station every 5-10km and refuelling takes mere minutes

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Re: Chicken, Meet Egg.

I don't disagree with you (I don't own an e-car and am unlikely to buy one any time soon), but:

"A classic car on the other hand - there is a station every 5-10km and refuelling takes mere minutes"

This was kind of the point I was trying to make. When the automobile first appeared, this was not true and people had to stockpile their own petrol/diesel/coal or buy it in shops.

The technology is in its infancy and I'd be shocked if these problems aren't solved over time.

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Re: Chicken, Meet Egg.

But a "fuel station" is easy to set up - a 200l barrel and a handpump is all it needs. Many third world fuel stations are still on that level and that is why the station net exploded in the late 19th/early 20th century. We even canister refueld main battle tanks during REFORGER (1)

A battery station needs a lot more infrastructure investments like power cables or in case of exchangeable batteries, storage / recharge stations and change boxes. Depending on the speed of change even more that a fuel station needs pumps

(1) Remember to switch of the engine on the M48A2GA2 before doing so otherwise he'll burn more fuel than you can fill in by jerrycan

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SAP + inspired =

Satire, built right in.

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Biggest issue in my mind isn't even the infrastructure (pretty easy to setup in established gas stations I suspect, especially as it's battery replacement, and not charging, so not taking up much forecourt space.

The issue is that people don't get new cars all that often, and certainly not at the same time. Israel was the companies best hope, and I think they really should have concentrated all efforts there, since it has the highest rate of leased cars for employees, and this is an area you could hit, lease them the cars as well as the batteries. Turnover for these vehicles is far higher, and it's much easier to grab a larger slice of the pie, especially with some incentives.

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How petrol stations got established

In them old days, there were no petrol stations. People strapped spare petrol cans to their cars and various shops, cartwrights, ironmongers etc would also sell cans of petrol (~4 gallons or so). As more cars became used, shops atrted having bowsers and the industry slowly emerged.

The same could theoretically happen with battery switch-out tech. Regular gas stations could keep a few batteries around fro swap out (just like they sell pre-bottled LPG etc.).

The problem with this is that a battery is bloody expensive and having spare batteries lying around at gas stations in case someone drives past and needs one during the next 5 months is a very poor use of money. That will soak up all the start-up funds pretty quickly and ruin a company trying to make the tech work. In short, the numbers just don't work.

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Van

Very difficult to compete with traditional cars when they are being sold at Zero profit or even at a loss. Then with a large profit to be made on servicing parts that electric cars don't have. Oils, filters, turbo's. cambelts etc

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Anonymous Coward

Or it could just be that electric cars are a crap idea, do little or nothing to Save The World (tm) and almost nobody wants one even with the large government subsidies that they get (paid from out taxes).

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Or it could just be that electric cars are a crap idea

I want to put you in a nice powerful electric car and then see you make that same statement after spending a little while doing not much else except drawing big black circles on the tarmac. They've got a higher power to weight than internal combustion engines and virtually zero noise.

do little or nothing to Save The World (tm)

Who cares about saving the world when you have maximum torque all the way from 0RPM to max, so you don't even need gears?

and almost nobody wants one even with the large government subsidies that they get (paid from out taxes).

Nobody wants to get stuck in the middle of nowhere without a means to fill 'er up. Don't confuse that with "nobody wants an electric car".

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There's nothing inherently wrong with the concept of an electric car, it's just the realisation in most cases has been pretty crap.

Better Place relied on enough cars being sold to support the infrastructure of stations where one set of batteries was swapped out for another. It didn't happen. If it had happened I doubt driving an EV or "refuelling" it would be represent any more effort than a conventional combustion engine - park on a ramp, wait a few minutes, drive off.

I think hybrids like the Volt are a much better short term solution - a smaller battery with limited range, e.g. 30 miles sufficient for most driving but that can fallback on combustion if necessary. It lowers the cost but still allows a vehicle which is primarily electric in day to day use.

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> when they are being sold at Zero profit or even at a loss. Then with a large profit to be made on servicing parts

Are you serious or just seriously deluded?

Nearly every car manufacturer offers free servicing for at least 3 years or 30,000 miles so there is no profit there.

In order for the car manufacturer to make enough profit from spare parts, the car would have to break down all the time which isn't happening. Even when they do need spare parts, the spare parts are manufactured by a third party so the profit does not go to the car manufacturer.

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In addition, any post warranty or wear & tear sevenues from service go to the dealership, not the manufacturer. There's a revenue split on parts with the bulk going to the dealership as well.

Automobile manufacturers make their money on the finance side, cars are simply a vehicle (ha) to enable the transaction to take place.

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> Automobile manufacturers make their money on the finance side,

That would be the finance companies who make their profit that way.

Car manufacturers make their money by, err, manufacturing cars. They calculate how much it costs them to manufacture it, transport it, borrow the money to manufacture it, impact of inflation between manufacturing and selling and many other factors. They then come up with the total cost of the vehicle, add in some profit and then sell it to you at that price. They've been doing that way for years.

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"That would be the finance companies who make their profit that way."

They obviously make money from it or they wouldn't be so pushy about selling HP and other options. Most car companies sell finance, either from an inhouse company or outsourced for their cut. There are some pretty terrible deals too if you're not careful - our family car got a dent and the dealer offered a part exchange on finance on a new model which would have worked out costing more than just buying the new car outright.

Also many payment plans are designed with a large final payment to incentivize people to buy yet another car from the dealer rather than stump up a lump sum to actually own the car they've been driving to that point.

Other ways they have of making money would include selling car insurance, forecourt insurance, ludicrously expensive optional extras like satnav, servicing & parts and so forth.

Yes they make a profit off the car too but I assume those other things are where they make most of their money.

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Meh

No. Auto manufacturers make the bulk if their money through financing. You are terribly wrong in your assessment of the new auto business.

For consumers they offer financing obviously, but the big money is financing for the dealers. The dealers don't own the cars on the lots. The manufacturer floats them the car through 'floor planning' programs where the dealer makes a monthly payment to the manufacturer then a lump sum balloon payment when the car sells. After a certain point, usually 90 days, the monthly payments rise significantly: It is the stick to get dealers to sell hard.

The pre-finance profit for a manufacturer on a nice family sedan is less than $1000. In the '90's Honda got their manufacturing profit for an Accord over $500 and they were the darlings of the industry. Nobody prior to that (except high end exotics) had ever hit that level before.

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In 2012 Ford Motor Company had a gross profit of $6 billion from Automotive sales and $1.7 billion from Financial services.

The bulk of its income was from manufacturing auto-mobiles.

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"In 2012 Ford Motor Company had a gross profit of $6 billion from Automotive sales and $1.7 billion from Financial services."

I suggest you look at the margins. 6 billion profit on 126.5 billion sales vs 1.7 billion profit on 7.7 billion sales. Also those automotive sales would include servicing, parts, extras etc. which are highly profitable and therefore probably account for much of that profit.

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Actually there is a lot wrong with electric cars and even more with the current ones that basically replace petrol engine and tank 1:1 with electrical engine and battery. Good designs would use concepts like in-wheel engines and different security arrangements as well as "fuel" placements. Batteries in the middle of the vehicle, cargo space front and rear as crash zones etc.

Even then the battery are the problem. Cheap ones are heavy and loose capacity when cold others are very costly with shorter life cycles. They also require well managed loading cycles to get a long life. And even then we are talking 3-5 Years at best. And they are heavy. Replacement systems add contact problems and problems with sealing the battery bay against water and dust since hearty weight are best placed low

What could work is dropping the idea of electric family cars and concentrate on electric short haul trucks and delivery vans. Planned routes and loads , daily return to a depot for charging and more space. Add in lower speeds and a lotof stop, start andbreaking- idealfor electric engines

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Bingo - remember that Tesla had a problem with the crazy torque from a high power electric motor destroying the best gearboxes they could find....

The big issue for electric cars is battery capacity. Real world data from Tesla and others shows that battery life is much better than you might think - intelligent charging systems that don't brutally trash the battery, they way that your laptop or mobile does....

With battery capacity up to say 500 miles on a single charge (probable within the decade), the issue about charging time goes away.

So you are left with a mechanically simple vehicle that can a 911 at the lights....

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In wheel motors have a serious problem - they add massively to un-sprung weight.

Batteries suck as crunch zones - dense, solid.

The evidence on battery life seems to be that treat the battery decently - controlled charging to a profile, cooling to prevent temperature excursions etc - massively extends electric vehicle battery life compared to the lig=fe span of a laptop battery.

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> 1.7 billion profit on 7.7 billion

A large chunk of the $7.7 billion expense consists of interest payments they are making on $17 billion in short term loans and $91 billion in long term loans. They have basically borrowed $100+ billion to lend to other people at a higher interest rate. Their risk to make that $1.7 billion is actually more than $100 billion.

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Or to put it another way:

John borrows $100 from Paul and then lends it George.

After a while George pays John back $107.70. John then pays Paul back $106.

John made $1.70 profit on $7.70

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That's why you put the batteries in the center of the car and low. Best place to balance the weight and resonably secure in a crash.

As for heating/cooling batteries etc - that costs power that is not available for other uses. Like air conditioning - try selling a city car without one... And it adds weight and costs and maintenance problems (how to get there, how to maintain the cooling/heating system etc)

And even with good maintenance battery life is short compared to a standard car. At 2000cycles lifetime (twice a notebook) they are done after six years at the most. And batteries are either cheap lead-acid types (or lead-gel types these days) or costly "notebook style" stuff. Not to mention that batteries loose capacity over time. The more non-constant the drain the more the loss at least for some types.

Wheel motors can be resonably small IF one drops the idea of building the equivalent to a 120+ HP long range/high speed car and goes for slower, shorter ranged city vehicles and smaller engines.

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The "super battery" at an affordable price has been promised almost as long as fusion power. And has been there "in this decade" for almost as long.Currently the best cars (at 70.000€+) can do 350km when driven on an optimal profile. As in "driving on the right lane behind a truck" Yeah, sure! (The even costlier variant can do 450km again slowly). Driven at typical autobahn speeds the non-changeable batterie was down after less than 200km in recent tests (Tesla-S). And if I go 100km/h I can buy a LOT of fuel for the price difference between a 60HP Golf and a Tesla.

And the super battery has to be safe (the last try tended to burn), environmental-safe and cheap! If you want mass market a useable commuter car / city car must come in below 15-20.000€ for a fully useable unit with the typical stuff (air conditioning, anti lock breaks, stability systems etc) And it better lasts 10+ years / 300.000km since that is the typical lifetime of a modern car

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> Planned routes and loads , daily return to a depot for charging and more space. Add in lower speeds and a lotof stop, start andbreaking- idealfor electric engines

They have been doing that with electric vehicles in the UK for about 60 years. They are called milk floats.

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"I want to put you in a nice powerful electric car and then see you make that same statement after spending a little while doing not much else except drawing big black circles on the tarmac. They've got a higher power to weight than internal combustion engines and virtually zero noise."

True, and after about 20 minutes of that when the batteries in the tesla are as flat a witches tit, you can hop into my lambo, do exactly the same - but with a _much_ better soundtrack, for an hour or two, then take it off the track, down to the pub for lunch and then home, passing the tesla, still doing tiny donuts - cos the extension lead is so short!

not a tesla salesman by any chance?

didn't think so

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all true....

but in my world

6,000,000,000 is in fact more than 1,700,000,000

which kinda suggests (and this is putting it patronisingly mildly) that 'Ford made most of their profit from making cars'

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True, and after about 20 minutes of that when the batteries in the tesla are as flat a witches tit, you can hop into my lambo, do exactly the same - but with a _much_ better soundtrack, for an hour or two, then take it off the track, down to the pub for lunch and then home, passing the tesla, still doing tiny donuts - cos the extension lead is so short!

If you want to spend half a million quid on something that has four wheels and goes, you be my guest. A lambo can either be an awesome vehicle, or an expression of "I am a fucking tit", so which is it for you? Nobody, including me, said current batteries are good enough. What was it I said? Oh yeah, "nobody wants to be stuck in the middle of nowhere without a means to fill 'er up." I said that. Scroll up and check if you like.

Fuel cells are going to come down in price. I can see them being what future EV cars will use rather than lithium or lead packs. Eventually it's gonna happen, because there's only so much dead dinosaur juice in the ground but there's a rather longer-lasting amount of fissile material and even more sunshine.

So yes, that Tesla will still be going, long after your Lambo has had to be converted to diesel and you've had to get 100 acres of rapeseed plantation to keep it going.

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Leccy cars are not magic

They need almost as many spares petrol cars do: tyres, shocks, wheel bearinge, lubrication,...

Then they need stuff that gas cars DON'T need: monster batteries, heating elements, high current control electronics,...

If anything it is easier to make the free printer + ink extortion business model work with leccies.

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In US...

A lot of new car financing is done by the manufacturers.

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"With battery capacity up to say 500 miles on a single charge"

Perhaps that will happen in your hoped-for 10 years. If/when that happens, I might buy one.

The promise of the possibility of something significantly better in the future does not prompt people to buy now. If, maybe, there are good leccies in 10 years, why would I buy something crap that will be obsolete soon?

"So you are left with a mechanically simple vehicle that can a 911 at the lights..." Given that they practically don't really exist, leccies can only do 0 to 60 in 10 years.

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Re: Leccy cars are not magic

If anything it is easier to make the free printer + ink extortion business model work with leccies.

Because that doesn't happen with Dino Juice at all.

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Chevy Volt

I just had a chance to talk with a bloke that bought a Volt. It works out perfectly for him as his commute to work is about 32 miles. The fully electric range is about 42miles, so he can make the trip with no problem. The company he works for fitted a charging port. Double bonus! He gets a reserved parking space up front and free fuel. In the two months he's had the car, he has only filled the petrol tank once when he first picked it up and the computer is giving him a petrol mpg of 210. If Chevy would come out with a estate and drop the price a bunch, I'd see about getting one.

I verified with him that the default mode does not charge the battery. It wouldn't make sense to charge the battery with the petrol engine like the Prius does. It's too expensive that way. IIRC, there is a setting that will allow you to do that. In fact, there are a few choices in how to set the electrics and the petrol engine to fit your circumstances.

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Doomed idea

Unfortunately Better Place was based on one of those ideas that sound great, until you start working out the details.

Battery swap stations cost something in the region of £500,000 to build, and require cars built to a certain specification with batteries of a standard size. Rapid chargers (taking 20 minutes to recharge rather than about 5 minutes to swap a battery) cost more like £20,000 and can be used with any car with the right socket.

For battery-swap to work as a business you need a vast number of EVs on the road and worse still you need all the car manufacturers to agree to use the same battery design and mounting system. Car manufacturers tend not to like standardizing the major components of their design as it makes it hard to compete. Better Place ended up with the lack-lustre Renault Fluence ZE and no other options.

A large proportion of those watching have seen this news as inevitable.

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Re: Doomed idea

Plus: long journeys are not the target market for electric cars. The vast majority of potential customers in Europe will manage fine with current batteries for their daily commute.

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Re: Doomed idea

Almost certainly not helped as well by Ghost declaring that Renault (and Nissan) are dropping out of the pure electric car market and instead ill be looking towards hybrid technology.

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FAIL

Re: Doomed idea

> The vast majority of potential customers in Europe will manage fine with current batteries for their daily commute.

So everyone needs two cars, one for commuting and one for trips to the family/airport/holiday ? That won't fly.

And don't try the "just rent a car for long journeys" idea, that only works while electric cars are in the minority. If 90% or cars were electric there wouldn't be any economical supply of IC cars for long journeys.

Serial hybrids, with an onboard very efficient IC generator, are a far more practical approach which requires little or no change to infrastructure or driving habits, and still offers electric car benefits for commuters.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Doomed idea

> Car manufacturers tend not to like standardizing the major components of their design

You mean like Mazda, Aston Martin, Volvo, Caterham, Morgan, Tiger, and Ginetta all using Ford's Duratec engine?

Or some models of Audi, Porsche and VW using the same chassis?

The same engines, transmissions and chassis can appear in different makes and models of cars which in effect means that car manufacturer's do standardise on a lot of major components.

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Re: Doomed idea

Our family has two cars - an SUV for the enitre family and longer trips and a small car (mazda 3) for short trips with only a couple of people. I'd like to buy an all electric car, but there is nothing available yet at a reasonable price (<$50,000).

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Re: Doomed idea

Yes, but they failed because they didn't get any of these manufacturers onboard. They got renault, and the battery-swap idea was a crap one. All the non-battery-swap companies are still going. I am personally waiting for the Model S and I will probably get one.

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Re: Doomed idea

The last three are all part of Volkswagen not independent companies. You can add Seat and Skoda to the list.

Same for the Freuchies Peugeot and Citroen are PSA. Or Italy [Fiat is also Lancia, Alpha and Chrysler]

The few full shared platforms [as opposed to parts like engines] are typically (Mini)vansand small transporters a market that works slightly different

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Re: Doomed idea

>> Car manufacturers tend not to like standardizing the major components of their design

>You mean like Mazda, Aston Martin, Volvo, Caterham, Morgan, Tiger, and Ginetta all using

> Ford's Duratec engine?

That is quite different as it is companies buying a component for a car from a different manufacturer, but it isn't even that simple... Mazda and Ford have an official partnership, Aston Martin was owned by Ford until 2007, Volvo was owned by Ford until 2010. Caterham, Morgan, Tiger and Ginetta are far too small to build their own engines.

> Or some models of Audi, Porsche and VW using the same chassis?

You do realise that Audi is owned by VW and the majority owner of VW is... Porsche? Not surprising they share components.

> The same engines, transmissions and chassis can appear in different makes and models of cars which in effect means that car manufacturer's do standardise on a lot of major components.

Yes, companies that are partners or closer often share parts. Competitors tend not to!

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Electric Renault Fluences

With the price of cars in Israel, and a possible political reason for wanting to reduce dependence on oil: if it didn't work here it's unlikely to work elsewhere.

It was a bold idea and a pity it failed.

But then again who really wants to drive an electric Renault Fluence?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Electric Renault Fluences

"But then again who really wants to drive an electric Renault Fluence?"

But then again who really wants to drive a Renault?

There, fixed it for you.

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Re: Electric Renault Fluences

Everything is ripe in Israel for an electric car success if you don't count the tiny population.

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