|David Kleid in his driveway with his Renault Fluence and its charging station.|
The first thing you notice about David Kleid’s new electric sedan is the quiet.
Driving up the hills toward Jerusalem from his home in Ma’aleh Adumim, Kleid’s shiny blue Renault Fluence emits barely a whisper.
But the lack of noise is not what motivated the former Fair Lawn resident to lease the Fluence through Better Place, the U.S.-Israeli electric car company that aims to set up Israel as a replicable model for the rest of the world – if enough David Kleids are willing to give it a test drive.
Kleid, a physician in the pediatric intensive care unit at Hadassah University Medical Center-Ein Karem in Jerusalem, does not consider himself an “early adopter” type. The all-electric Renault appealed to him mainly for its ability to free him from the gas pump.
“With my old car, I spent between $400 and $500 a month on gasoline,” he said. Fuel goes for the equivalent of about $7.50 per gallon in Israel.
“That was one factor,” he said. “If I’d bought a smaller, more fuel-efficient car it also would have been cheaper. But I liked the idea of not using gas altogether. I grew up with an awareness of gas coming from the Middle East, and causing environmental problems, so I thought, why not just get away from it?”
The seed was planted about three years ago, when David and Susan Kleid (who lived in Fair Lawn from 1988 to 1991) went to the Better Place Visitors Center near Tel Aviv to see a presentation and take a test drive. They were intrigued. Susan Kleid’s father, prominent environmental and vegan activist Richard Schwartz of Staten Island, was enthusiastic when he heard about their experience – but the car was not yet on sale back then.
Electric cars have been around for decades, but they never offered a practical alternative to conventional cars because the battery drove up the cost of the vehicle significantly but did not have enough juice for more than a short drive.
The Better Place-Renault breakthrough, in 2005, was the concept of separating the battery from the vehicle and building a network of automatic battery-switching stations. This reduces the cost dramatically and does not leave the owner with a useless battery as new technologies emerge.
As part of the package available in Israel starting in mid-2012, Better Place technicians install a charging station at the driver’s home. Many owners also get a charging station installed in their workplace, and some of the larger employers in Israel have these stations available in their parking lots.
Still, Kleid was hesitant to take a risk on a new company that could go belly-up tomorrow. He was not alone in this thinking; in its first year of operations in Israel, Better Place sold fewer than 1,000 cars to a skeptical public. A new leasing option aimed to open the field to more players.
“This year we needed a new car,” said Kleid. “One day I was going to look at some when Susan called and said there was an article in the Jerusalem Post about a new type of finance deal for a Better Place car that seemed attractive. So I went to the Renault dealership in Jerusalem and talked to the salesman.”
The offer involved a three-year lease with a modest down payment, plus an option to cancel at any time for a small penalty. Users pay a fixed monthly rate per kilometer, including electricity and unlimited battery switches. Though Kleid had never leased an automobile before, it seemed like a perfect way to try the electric car.
The next day, he returned for a test drive. “I was a little concerned about Ma’aleh Adumim and the hills,” he said. “But it was fine; it drove better than my other car. A new car will always be better, but this car really picks up speed fast. It was a pleasure to drive.”
His daily commute to and from the hospital is just under 40 miles, and when he gets home the battery still has a 30 to 40 percent charge.
“The battery recharges when you’re on the downhill,” Kleid explained. “Going up to Jerusalem takes almost twice as much energy as coming home. At night, I plug it into the recharging station in my driveway, and it’s ready in the morning.”
He has not yet taken the Fluence on a long trip. Theoretically he could punch the destination into the car’s built-in GPS and receive a suggested route that would keep him close to the ever-growing Israeli network of automatic switching stations.
“It’s like going to a carwash,” he said. “The car moves along a conveyor belt and the battery is changed in less than 10 minutes.”
It remains to be seen whether the grand experiment ultimately will be successful. For now, Kleid said he is enjoying his ride and the security of Better Place’s 24/7 customer service.