Politics and electric cars

November 15, 2012 - 4:53 PM by

Better Place car: politically incorrect?

Does electric car company Better Place discriminate against driving across the Green Line? Now, certainly, Better Place will be happy to sell you a shiny new 100% gasoline-free Renault Fluence, no matter where you live. But in our brief time driving our own Better Place car, OSCAR – the company’s personable if flaky GPS – has simply refused to route us across the border, red, blue, green or otherwise. And we’re not talking about getting anywhere close to Gaza.

I first noticed it when we tried to drive home from the Tel Aviv area via Highway 443, which travels in the West Bank between Modi’in and Jerusalem. Even though that route is faster and less kilometers, OSCAR insisted on sending us via Highway 1.

It happened again Thursday night, when we were driving back to Jerusalem from Sandy Cash’s concert in Beit Shemesh. The most direct line would have via Road 375, which snakes up from the Ellah Valley, via Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit and then through several kilometers of the West Bank before passing the checkpoint on the tunnel road that leads into Jerusalem’s southern neighborhood of Gilo. Again, OSCAR demanded that we go the long way home on Highway 1.

We decided to ignore him. Now, the first time we tried this, as you may recall, we came pretty close to 0% on our battery. But that was the day we drove the car home from Better Place, so we didn’t know OSCAR well – we weren’t aware, for example, that he doesn’t calculate hills with great accuracy (the ascent to Jerusalem, we’ve since learned, saps a good 20% of the battery).

On Thursday, though, we had a comfortable 74% battery left when we left Beit Shemesh for a 40-kilometer drive. We didn’t need OSCAR to tell us that wouldn’t be a problem to make it home.

And everything was going just fine as I zipped up the hill. I’ve never driven a sports car, but the electric Fluence has such incredible handling, that I imagine this is what it must feel like. Acceleration like you’re slicing through butter; turns and banking that barely break a sweat.

Just past Tsur Hadassah, we passed through the first checkpoint for our brief post-border sojourn. Up until this point, OSCAR predicted (under some duress, I imagine) that we’d have 29% of a charge on our battery when we pulled into our garage. But now, suddenly, OSCAR declared that we would have 0%. Shades of very bad déjà vu. Only worse this time: if the car pooped out here, we wouldn’t be in the friendliest neighborhood and who knows when a tow truck would come to extract us.

And so, there we were again, sweating, unable to do anything but look at the percent battery meter dropping faster and faster, all the while muttering words of disbelief. It just didn’t make sense, chemically, physically, electrically.

And then, as soon as we drove past the second checkpoint, OSCAR sprang back to life. Our predicted battery charge on arrival was back up into the healthy twenties. And, indeed, we made it home with exactly what we thought we’d have when we started.

So, was OSCAR – and Better Place – making a political statement? That you’d better not drive in disputed territory and, if you do, we’re going to scare the dickens out of you until you never do it again?

We’ll have to wait and see how OSCAR version 2.0 does – it’s supposed to include some major improvements to the whole GPS/battery charging interface. It’s due out by the end of the year. I’ll hold my final verdict until then.

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