Summary:

The makers of the two slickest electric vehicle charging stations — GE and Better Place — have partnered up over a variety of projects around batteries, EVs and charging stations. What’s behind this deal?

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Updated: The makers of the two slickest electric vehicle charging stations — GE and Better Place — have partnered up over a variety of projects around batteries, EVs and charging stations. The partnership seems designed to help kick-start the market for GE’s newly launched electric vehicle charging station, the WattStation, as well as to bring a big player, GE, to the table for Better Place’s inaugural battery swapping and charging networks that are being built in Israel and Denmark.

GE and Better Place say their partnership will include several initiatives. First, GE will make sure that its WattStation is compatible with Better Place’s service networks. That means that GE can sell more WattStations in areas where Better Place becomes successful, and potential Better Place customers will have more EV charging choices. I could also envision Better Place becoming cash-strapped and eventually switching over to offer GE’s WattStations in place of its well-designed charger.

Secondly, GE and Better Place say they will work together to offer owners of fleets (companies, government agencies) an electrification service in major cities and highways. I’m not sure exactly what this will entail, but it sounds like a package for selling fleets electric vehicle charging stations and helping convert to electric cars. I’ll add more on this when I hear from Better Place. Update: Better Place says the GE/Better Place fleet offering will include electric vehicle sourcing, battery financing, energy management, and ongoing maintenance and services.

Third, GE and Better Place say they will create a battery financing program that will finance 10,000 batteries in Israel and Denmark (Better Place’s first two markets). Likewise ,I’ll also add more on this when I hear from Better place about where the financing will come from.

Overall this partnership says a few things about GE, Better Place and the nascent stage of the market for electric vehicles. Now that Better Place is faced with the daunting task of actually building out the Israel and Denmark battery swap and charging stations — which will collectively cost hundreds of millions billions — Better Place is likely realizing that it just can’t go it alone as a startup. It needs to work with companies that have the heft and supply chain resources of GE. If that means slightly less revenue from selling GE’s charging station instead of its own, it’s a decent trade-off.

The electric car charging station will eventually be a commodity businesses, if it isn’t already. It’s not a place that Better Place should be in at the end of the day, but a decent place for a massive conglomerate like GE.

For GE, the company’s new WattStation product seems to be a small, experimental offering, and it can afford to make a bet on a young, controversial startup like Better Place. If Better Place does well, GE could sell more WattStations, and if not, GE has a whole ecosystem of automakers, utilities, and other electric charging startups to choose from to create new partnerships.

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