Israeli electric car company CEO steps down

JERUSALEM — Israeli electric car company Better Place said Tuesday that its founder and chief executive was stepping down.

Shai Agassi leaves behind a company that has won widespread praise and attention for his dream of ending the world’s dependence on oil, but which has struggled at times to carry out that vision.

The circumstances surrounding his departure were not immediately clear. In a statement Tuesday, company Chairman Idan Ofer said it had achieved its goals under Agassi and had reached a “natural point” for change.

“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. “It is almost five years to the day since Shai launched Better Place and a natural point in the company’s evolution to realign for its second chapter and for the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

The chief executive of Better Place’s Australian business, Even Thornley, will take over. Agassi, a former top executive at German software maker SAP, will remain on Better Place’s board.

Better Place says it aims to wean the world off fossil fuel via a network of charging stations and infrastructure to power electric cars.

Through a partnership with Renault, Better Place is close to completing nationwide networks in Israel and Denmark. For longer trips, its infrastructure includes changing stations that allow travelers to swap their batteries in a matter of minutes, avoiding the lengthy process of recharging.

But the company has burned through hundreds of millions of dollars, caused in part by a slow rollout of its network and reluctance by consumers to adopt electric cars.

The company says that despite the heavy startup costs, it remains on solid footing and is optimistic about the future. After testing the system for several months, it recently began sales of its all-electric Renault Fluence model to the general public.

Altogether, it says it has raised $750 million and recently secured a 40 million euro loan from the European Investment Bank.