Electric Taxis for Tokyo

THE company promoting the mass adoption of electric cars, Better Place, has just received an award from the Japanese government to conduct a pilot project in Tokyo for the world’s first electric taxis with switchable batteries.   

Not so long ago the company got some money to make Canberra Australia’s first city with an electric vehicle infrastructure. 
The Tokyo electric taxi pilot will involve the construction of a permanent Better Place battery switch site in Central Tokyo.  This project will allow for testing of battery switching duration, vehicle range, and vehicle battery life under heavy use operating conditions.  

Following is the media release: 
TOKYO (August 26, 2009) – Better Place today announced that it has received an award from the Japanese government to conduct a pilot project in Tokyo for the world’s first electric taxis with switchable batteries.  Better Place will partner with Tokyo’s largest taxi operator, Nihon Kotsu, in the project commissioned by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency.  The project, which comes on the heels of the company’s successful battery switch demonstration earlier this year in Yokohama, is slated to begin in January 2010.
“Japan continues to be a leader in automotive engineering and innovation, and the government’s funding of Better Place for the world’s first battery switchable electric taxis is a testament to the country’s commitment to sustainable transportation,” said Kiyotaka Fujii, President of Better Place Japan and Head of Business Development for Asia Pacific.  “This puts the Better Place battery switch system to use in a real-world application involving heavy-use vehicles that drive much more than the average passenger car.  It also enables us to begin to convert taxis to clean, zero emission transportation.”
Japanese taxis represent a mere two percent of all passenger vehicles on the road in Japan, yet they emit approximately 20 percent of all carbon dioxide (CO2) from vehicles due to their average distance traveled in a given day.  In Tokyo alone, there are approximately 60,000 taxis, a far greater number than in New York, Paris, or Hong Kong.  The outcome of the Tokyo pilot program for electric taxis could point to opportunities in other urban centers.  Additionally, success within the heavy use taxi industry will help to ensure efficient technology transfer to the mass market, where daily mileage is far less on average.
The electric taxi pilot will showcase the everyday use applications of the Better Place model, and will involve the construction of a Better Place battery switch site at a location in the Roppongi Hills area in Central Tokyo.  Up to four newly modified and fully operational electric taxis will be operated from an existing taxi lane for environmentally-friendly vehicles at the Roppongi Hills complex.
Tokyo R&D Co., a specialist in automotive engineering and production, will supply the EVs based on commercially available vehicles with the necessary battery latch mechanisms and switchable batteries. Tokyo R&D also will be involved with building the battery switch site and provide diagnostic software for the pilot.
The vehicles will be put into standard taxi service by the Nihon Kotsu taxi company.  Battery switching duration, vehicle range, and battery resistance to degradation will be tested under actual operating conditions.
The Tokyo taxi pilot brings Better Place one step closer to delivering a cleaner and more convenient refuelling experience for drivers worldwide.

14 Responses to Electric Taxis for Tokyo

  1. Mike Goad August 27, 2009 at 12:33 am #

    My first question is, what are they doing about the increased demand on the electric grid that all of these new electric vehicles will bring? More power plants?

  2. Eyrie August 27, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    Pilot projects are the way to go. Run it for about 5 years. Figure out what it really costs. As anybody who has ever made anything for public use knows, the customers will find some unique way to use/abuse the product that was never thought of by its designers.

    OTOH this may not be a good demonstration of electric cars for everyday use by ordinary car owners as high performance lithium batteries have a calender life (as low as 12 months)as well as a charge/discharge cycle life. Taxis will hit the cycle life before the calender life limit.

  3. Louis Hissink August 27, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    I caught a taxi in Darwin last week – a Toyota Prius, and apparently the battery life is 8 years. Supposed to be of course. The driver switched on the power display for me and it never once ran on battery power alone – the petrol engine was always running. Occasionally it would show a graphic of energy leaving the batteries to the electric motor, but otherwise it seemed a complex way of moving humans.

  4. Patrick B August 27, 2009 at 9:53 am #

    “it seemed a complex way of moving humans.”

    Indeed, the motor car is an over-engineered capitalist money pit. I long for simpler times, bring back the horse and cart I say!

  5. Noel Skippen August 27, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    A pilot project over an extended period is the only way to seriously assess this technology. The useful battery life needs to be proven under operating conditions as this aspect is absolutely crucial to the technology.
    People are going to insist on personal transport, much to the chagrin of the deep greens, so the automobile is some form has a long future ahead of it. This will still be so even when oil becomes prohibitively expensive at some time in the (distant?) future.

  6. Glen S August 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    Running taxis on electricity which is generated by coal is more polluting than running them on petrol. It’s different in Japan as a large portion of their power is generated by nuclear power. The fossil fuel industry and the media have not brainwashed the population against nuclear power like they have in Australia.

  7. Larry Fields August 27, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    Louis wrote:
    “I caught a taxi in Darwin last week – a Toyota Prius, and apparently the battery life is 8 years. Supposed to be of course. The driver switched on the power display for me and it never once ran on battery power alone – the petrol engine was always running. Occasionally it would show a graphic of energy leaving the batteries to the electric motor, but otherwise it seemed a complex way of moving humans.”

    A few years ago, I carpooled to a trailhead with a fellow hiker who owned a Prius. I was surprised that the tiny engine plus the batteries supplied enough power to drive at a respectable speed all the way up to Echo Summit (7000 feet elevation gain).

    I don’t have a strong opinion about hybrid cars, in general. Regenerative braking is a good idea. Conventional cars use a substantial amount of energy in accelerating from green lights, and in heating the great outdoors when they brake for red lights. If petrol prices go through the roof in a few years, a hybrid owner may be happy to have invested in fuel efficiency. On the other hand, the battery pack adds weight, which degrades the effectiveness of the system somewhat.

    The jury is still out on the useful lifespan of the batteries. However Toyota offers a substantial warranty on them–at least in the US. If you live in a really hot place, like El Centro, California–which is not especially friendly to batteries–the hybrid warranty would probably be more advantageous to you than to someone who lives in a temperate place, like Santa Cruz.

  8. chrisgo August 27, 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    Electric cars are only marginally more efficient than petrol-powered cars and significantly less efficient than diesel — and that’s only if you don’t use the heater.

    For the carbon-crazed, electric taxis may be an attractive option for Tokyo, where base load power is derived from nuclear plants and fossil fuel plants are used only for peak load supply.

    However, electricity in Canberra comes from the national power grid, so in terms of saving the world, electric cars are empty tokenism.

    Plus ça change.

  9. Allan August 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

    The Better Place system, according to them would not require extra power stations as the softwear they put into the cars organises the charging sequence ie if you are not going to use the car in the next 12 hours you will be charged later than someone who will need the car charged in 1 hour.
    The idea is to flatten the demand curve and therefore utilise the existing power stations closer to full capacity.
    Also it means that all those wind power stations will have some one to buy their power and store it in the car batteries.
    The other half of the system is the battery swap stations to keep the cars going over longer distance journeys.
    The best thing is we wont have to buy overseas oil which means Australia will be energy independent.
    Whether it saves on the emissions of CO2 is neither here nor there.
    It comes down to the cost of energy for kilometer travelled.
    I’am keeping an open mind on this one because I can in theory generate enough power from pannels on the roof of the house where I cannot produce petrol or diesel at home.

  10. Tinos August 28, 2009 at 6:19 am #

    Allan: I don’t care if we depend on foreign oil. We only do so because it’s cheaper. We could be energy independent, it would just cost more and there’s no point.

    This just sounds like corporate welfare.

  11. Eyrie August 28, 2009 at 6:46 am #

    We’ll have to overseas sourced lithium batteries instead of oil.

    The Prius uses Nickel metal hydride batteries whose technology is well understood and has had around 25 years of intensive development. The amount of discharge and charge is also very conservatively limited so the battery is only used to about half its capacity which is why a Prius won’t go far on electric power alone. The latest model has a 1.8 litre petrol engine. Think Corolla hauling around the weight of a battery pack and electric motor and controller all the time.

    Lithium batteries are more expensive and have calender life limits regardless of use. They may be Ok in taxis. Driving development of high performance lightweight cheaper lithium batteries is, of all things, the radio control model aircraft market.

  12. Louis Hissink August 29, 2009 at 7:06 pm #


    Lithium – if this trend continues the mining industry, which the Greens want to destroy, will have to find more mineral deposits of this metal. Lithium isn’t all that plentiful and certainly is not on my mineral radar as something for which to explore – there is a greater demand for manganese at present.

    In terms of battery chemistry I would opt for NiH types for the present since Ni is relatively abundant.

    It’s a pity we have not worked out how to make use of the Earth’s electric field – it’s 100 volts per vertical metre though at what amperage is unknown. Tesla had an idea of tapping into it but his backer J.P.Morgan could not figure out out to make money from and folklore has it that the FBI quarantined all of Tesla’s manuscripts on his death. Perhaps, but the sudden discovery of a free energy source would have a devastating effect on the economy – and when the world’s economies are all basically planned, vested interests will insure that innovation of the wrong type is stifled.

    At least PatrickB is not concerned with this scenario – he prefers Victorian Era transport, with its attendant environmental problems, to humans, basically complex assemblages of bacteria, oxidising hydrocarbons.

    Put it simply, that is what we really are – complex assemblages of bacteria oxidising hydrocarbons.

  13. yuval brandstetter MD January 8, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    saying a ninty percent efficient electric engine is as polluting as a 15 % efficiency ICE is obviously disingenuous. Even the most polluting coal-fired plant is way more efficient than a diesle engine accelerating from one stop-light to the next. But the greatest advantage of the EV is not even considered and that the absence of the pump. The need to transport the noxious fluid to the refinery then from the refinery to millions of gas stations is abrogated, because the power-grid does this so much better, and is already available pretty much everywhere. To say nought of the pollution wrought be the refineries themselves.


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