The Japanese government wants the EV evangelists at Better Place to electrify some of Tokyo’s taxis, and the cabs with cords could be on the road by January. They will use the Silicon Valley startup’s swappable batteries, which can be replaced in about the time it takes to fill a gas tank.
The pilot program between Better Place and Nihon Kotsu — Tokyo’s largest taxi company — will be the first real-world test of the innovative battery-swap technology. Better Place says the ability to quickly and easy change a dead battery is essential to eliminating the “range anxiety” that makes EVs a tough sell. Tokyo is a perfect proving ground because the city has about 60,000 taxis — more than New York, Paris or Hong Kong. Although those taxis represent just 2 percent of the vehicles in Japan, they account for 20 percent of the CO2 that country’s automobiles produce, said Kiyotaka Fujii, president of Better Place Japan.
“Japan has a very large taxi market,” Fujii said at a press conference, according to Japan Times. “I believe EVs with switchable batteries will spread to many other Asian countries, if they succeed in Japan.”
The pilot program is starting small — really small. Better Place says “up to four newly modified and fully operational” electric taxis will serve the Roppongi Hills neighborhood of central Tokyo. Better Place plans to build one of its $500,000 battery-swap stations in Roppongi Hills to keep the cars going.
But Better Place and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry — which commissioned Better Place for the pilot program — have big plans. Better Place says it anticipates building 100 battery swap stations within the next decade and converting all of Tokyo’s taxis to electricity. It isn’t clear who’s going to build those cars, though. Although several automakers — most recently Mitsubishi with its iMiEV and Nissan with its Leaf — promise to begin selling electric vehicles, so far only Renault is building one with a swappable battery.
Still, taxis are a logical place for the technology because they can work from a centralized location — in this case, a battery swap station — and the economies of scale offered by a massive fleet could make the technology more cost-effective.
“Battery-switchable EVs are effective as vehicles that get a lot of use, such as taxis and cars used for car-sharing,” Minoru Nakamura, the crude oil distribution unit manager at the ministry’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency, said, according to Japan Times.