It works just like this!

Much publicity, high hopes, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been devoted to the Better Place electric-car service.

Now, with an apparent dearth of Israeli customers to sign on the dotted line, the company is turning over its management.

The latest defection is deputy CEO Moshe Kaplinsky. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported his resignation last Thursday.

Kaplinksy had run Better Place Israel since 2008, and was promoted just last month to deputy CEO of the entire Better Place company.

In an e-mail to employees, he said he had been considering the move for a long time.

Charismatic founder Shai Agassi resigned in early October; he was replaced by Evan Thornley, previously CEO of Better Place Australia.

At the time, Idan Ofer, chairman of the Better Place board, said, “We owe Shai our gratitude for turning his powerful vision into a reality.”

Minimal sales

Diagram showing the battery-swapping process used by Better Place

Above: Diagram showing the battery-swapping process used by Better Place

Image Credit: Better Place

While executive turnover is often a given at venture-funded startups, Better Place’s core problem stems from its inability to convince Israelis to sign up for its service.

As of the end of October, just 490 cars had been sold after several months of marketing–making its target of 4,000 customers by next June a stretch goal at very best.

Local press reports said that many Israeli drivers, doing the math, concluded that even the least expensive Better Place plan provided more miles than they were likely to use–and cost more than an equivalent gasoline car.

In September, the company launched a new, less costly plan that includes only 7,500 miles a year.

Other potential customers reportedly express skepticism and reluctance to be the first on the block to try the service.

“I don’t want to be the sucker, the freier,” said airline employee Moshe Kretzo, 60, as quoted in Time magazine. The word also translates to “chump.”

Packages of miles

The startup electric-car service vows to reinvent the way drivers pay for transportation.

It offers annual packages of miles for a set price–similar to mobile-phone plans–and includes both electric recharging and battery swapping as part of the package.

According to Haaretz, 38 of the planned 45 battery-swap stations have now been built in Israel.

Israeli drivers have to buy the Renault Fluence ZE electric sedan separately.

(Those drivers include our correspondent, Brian of London, who has covered his Better Place purchase and experiences herehere,hereherehere, and here.)