Better Place CEO leaves in electric car firm's latest shake-up

JERUSALEM Wed Jan 16, 2013 7:31am EST

JERUSALEM Jan 16 (Reuters) - The new chief executive officer of electric car venture Better Place has stepped down just four months after a company shake-up put him in charge, officials said on Wednesday.

The news of Evan Thornley's departure is the latest sign that investors are unhappy with the California-based operator's sluggish sales.

Thornley, who replaced founder Shai Agassi in October, has since butted heads with Better Place's board over the focus of the company, said Alan Gelman, chief financial officer and head of operations in Israel.

"We at times were too focused on turning into a global company and expanded too fast, but we have to focus on local operations and selling cars," he told Reuters. "Most time and effort will be on operations in Israel and Denmark."

Better Place's gasoline-free network, launched last year in Israel and Denmark with much fanfare, is made up of charging spots and battery swap stations that increase driving range.

Gelman and his Danish counterpart Johnny Hansen will be running the company until a new CEO is found.

An earnings report published in November by conglomerate Israel Corp, which owns about 30 percent of Better Place, said the electric car company had an accumulated deficit of $561.5 million and that more losses were expected.

Better Place had partnered with Renault in 2008 and committed to a production run of 100,000 electric cars. About 600 of its cars are on the road in Israel and even fewer in Denmark, Gelman said.

He said, however, that the company had turned a corner in recent weeks with large sales to fleets.

"We have gained a lot of momentum of late and we are selling a lot more cars. The days of not selling cars are over," he said. (Reporting by Steven Scheer and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Tova Cohen)