As fate would have it, Israel's electric automobile pioneer BetterPlace filed for bankruptcy on the day Secretary of State John Kerry announced his new Middle East peace plan to the same World Economic Forum where Shai Agassi first floated his battery car dream a decade earlier.
I’ve written extensively about BetterPlace, listened to Agassi set out his dream, test-driven the car, checked out their mission-control-style National Operations Center in Rosh Ha-Ayin and even had rare access to the closely-guarded bowels of a BetterPlace battery-switching station where technology once used to load bombs onto airplanes has been refined, computerized and beaten into environmentally-friendly ploughshares so drivers can swap a half-ton of charged lithium-ion in under five minutes.
I’m saddened by the failure of Agassi’s effort to create a world where cars run on clean energy, but the near-billion-dollar failure that made him the poster child of the Start-Up Nation bears lessons far beyond the business perils of green technology.
Like the obscure car crash that sparked the first intifada in 1987, the BetterPlace pile-up is more than a traffic accident. The company's failure is a morality tale about what happens when a game-changing vision and brilliant theory collide head-on with entrenched realities and patterns of behavior.