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Renault plays down collapse of Israeli-US battery firm

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

French car manufacturer Renault played down on Monday the effect of the bankruptcy of Israeli-US firm Better Place, a pioneer of rapid changeover of electric-car batteries.

Renault said that the collapse of Better Place, for which it had developed a battery-switching technology designed to make it easier for drivers to recharge their vehicles, did not in any way undermine Renault-Nissan's strategy to develop in the market for cars powered by electric batteries.

Renault said that it had sold about 1,000 of its Renault Fluence electric cars, mainly in Israel but also in Denmark and the Netherlands.

This amounted to little more than 1.0 percent of total sales of electric cars by Renault-Nissan, said the head of Renault's operations in the Asia-Pacific region Gilles Normand.

"In no way does this put in question our strategy concerning electric vehicles," he said.

Renault was a partner of Better Place, but was not a shareholder.

The French group declined to say how much it had invested in the partnership, for which it developed a technology called "Quick Drop" for switching quickly the batteries driving the engine once they had become discharged.

The investment amounted to a "very small part" of 4.0 billion euros ($5.2 billion) allocated by Renault-Nissan up to 2015 for the development in the segment for electrically powered cars, a sector in which the group is a world leader, Normand said.

In 2009, Better Place and Renault had hoped to sell 100,00 electric vehicles in Israel and Denmark by 2016, but sales have been running at 1.0 percent of this target.

Norman remarked: "When you want to be a leader in a segment, you have to take risks. When you open a route of innovation as big as the electric car, you can't close doors, but rather the opposite."

Renault would now review whether or not to abandon Quick Drop technology, for which Better Place was the only customer.

"We are coordinating with them to ensure that after-sales service continues, particularly in Israel," Normand said.

Press reports in Israel say that Better Place had absorbed $850 million (657 million euros) since it was created by entrepreneur Shai Agassi in 2007. It operated slightly more than 50 service stations, of which 38 were in Israel and 17 in Denmark.

The company was based on technology enabling the drivers of electric cars to charge their vehicles up with electricity. This was done by switching batteries with the use of a robot.

The objective was to overcome one of the problems with electric cars which is the time needed to recharge batteries from a mains connection.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130527/renault-plays-down-collapse-israeli-us-battery-firm