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Israeli gas stations to swap Better Place car batteries

Electric-car services company Better Place forges ahead with plan to install tens of thousands of charging stations and battery-switching locations in Israel by next year.

Electric-car services company Better Place has announced deals in Israel with corporate fleet operators and a gas station company, steps toward launching a nationwide network for all-electric cars next year.

Ninety-two companies in Israel plan to host charging stations for Better Place electric cars, the company said Sunday, and a gas station operator will host battery switching stations.

A charging point for electric vehicles in Israel. Better Place

With the deals in place and support from the Israeli government, Better Place projects that it will be operating a nationwide network of thousands of charging stations by 2011, according to reports.

During a press conference, Israel-born Better Place CEO Shai Agassi predicted that by 2020 there will be more electric cars sold in Israel than gasoline cars. The deal with corporate fleet operators translates into over half the fleet cars in the country, he told Reuters.

Better Place's business model is to provide driving plans for electric vehicle owners, roughly analogous to mobile phone plans. A person or company can purchase a certain number of driving miles per month for a fee and refill batteries at home and at corporate charging stations. They can also swap out batteries, which are owned by Better Place, for fresh ones.

It has signed on Renault Nissan which will manufacture cars with swappable batteries and a driving range of about 100 miles. Earlier this month, Better Place raised $350 million to expand into Israel, Denmark, and other locations--an investment led by bank HSBC.

Better Place has not signed on any other carmakers, and many people have questioned whether its business model will work, particularly in the U.S. where driving distances can be longer than in other countries.

By contrast, its business is better suited for Israel, where there is a strong national interest to reduce oil imports, many people drive corporate cars, and there is a small geography to work within.

Also on Sunday, the company said it will open a demonstration facility, which includes a driving track and displays to explain how how the electric charging network will operate.