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Better Place raises $350 million, first projects on track

Start-up gets a giant round of funding to build its network of electric-car-charging and battery-swapping stations with Europe and Asia its preferred locations.

Better Place has raised $350 million to build its charging network for electric cars, the start-up said Monday.

The series B round was led by HSBC Holdings and brought new investors Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Lazard Asset Management. The investment, which follows a $200 million round in 2007, is likely to be one of the largest in the green-tech area this year.

Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place Martin LaMonica/CNET

Better Place also said that its first two projects in Denmark and Israel are on track to go online in 2011 using all-electric Renault sedans. The new money will allow the company to further build its technology and test it in full-scale trials in the second half of this year.

Better Place, started by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, has developed a business model around consumers paying a monthly fee to lease electric batteries. Instead of fueling up at gas stations, people can charge for free at home or swap out batteries at specific locations. People can sign on for different monthly plans, which would correspond to how far they expect to drive.

Although many people agree it's an innovative business model, the company has only signed on one carmaker, Nissan Renault, to build cars with swappable batteries. Still, the investment by HSBC and others, including first-time investors, is an endorsement for the plan, Agassi said in a statement.

"One of the world's largest, most conservative banks, HSBC, [has taken] the validating step of investing in a private company intent on bringing innovation to the trillion-dollar automotive and energy industries," Agassi said.

The round values Better Place at $1.25 billion.

Better Place said that it expects to continue working on already-announced projects to install charging and battery-swapping networks in Australia and certain area in the U.S., including San Francisco and Hawaii.

It indicated on Monday, though, that it expects to expand in geographical regions that offer the best financial returns, which are in Europe and Asia.