Better Place’s Israeli founder booted from top job at fledgling electric car firm

Shai Agassi will leave his position as head of the struggling eco-friendly vehicle start-up, but will remain on the board of directors

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

"Better Place" founder, Israeli-American entrepreneur Shai Agassi (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
"Better Place" founder, Israeli-American entrepreneur Shai Agassi (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

The electric car company Better Place removed its founder from the company’s top job on Tuesday, as the firm struggles to gain a foothold in the automobile market.

The surprise decision by Better Place’s board of directors removed CEO Shai Agassi, who started the company in 2007 with the goal of marketing electric vehicles to Israel and the rest of the world. Agassi had garnered global publicity and high-profile backers for the venture.

His departure is seen as linked to the company’s financial problems, which are rooted in difficulties in selling cars and setting up the necessary infrastructure to support them. Cars became available in Israel in the first half of this year, but sales have lagged behind forecasts.

Evan Thornley, the CEO of Better Place Australia, will replace Agassi who will instead have a seat on the board, the company announced. Thornley will assume the global CEO role effective immediately.

“Five years ago, I followed my passion to make the world a better place and founded a company to materialize that vision,” Agassi said in a statement released by the company. “Very few people are blessed to see such a grand vision become a proven reality within a relatively short time frame. I am proud of the Better Place people and the team that I am leaving behind who will take this company to the next chapter.”

Better Place chairman Idan Ofer said the leadership change was “a natural point in the company’s evolution to realign for its second chapter and for the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

“Under Shai’s leadership, we’ve successfully achieved our goals in the first chapter of Better Place, and we owe Shai our gratitude for turning his powerful vision into a reality,” Ofer said.

Despite drumming up much media hype and public excitement, Better Place has accrued losses of some NIS 1.7 billion ($437 million) since its founding.

Earlier this year, the first cars rolled out onto the streets of Israel. But since the beginning of 2012 the company has lost NIS 500 million ($128 million) that was reportedly spent on research and improving the planned national network of charging stations for the vehicles.

The company is promoting similar electric car projects in Denmark , China, and Australia.

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