Taxi operator, U.S. developer to test switchable batteries

by Hiroko Nakata

Better Place, a U.S. developer of electric vehicle infrastructure, said Wednesday it will partner with Tokyo taxi operator Nihon Kotsu on a pilot project for cabs using switchable batteries next January.

The California-based venture will build a battery switch station near Roppongi Hills in Minato Ward to improve infrastructure for the environmentally friendly vehicle.

“Japan has a very large taxi market. I believe EVs with switchable batteries will spread to many other Asian countries, if they succeed in Japan,” Kiyotaka Fujii, president of Better Place Japan and head of business development for the Asia-Pacific region, told a news conference.

In Tokyo alone, there are about 60,000 taxis, a far greater number than in New York, Paris or Hong Kong, he said.

Taxis nationwide represent 2 percent of all passenger vehicles on the road, but they emit about 20 percent of all carbon dioxide from vehicles due to their average distance traveled in a given day, the company said.

Japanese carmakers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., have launched electric vehicles, but because their batteries are not switchable it takes seven or eight hours to complete a recharge. Even with quick chargers, the task takes 30 minutes.

One the other hand, it would take about a minute and a half to switch batteries at a station, Better Place said.

“Battery-switchable EVs are effective as vehicles that get a lot of use, such as taxis and cars used for car-sharing,” said Minoru Nakamura, crude oil distribution unit manager at the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency, which is funding the project.

Tokyo R&D Co., a specialist in automotive engineering and production, will outfit the EVs based on a gasoline-powered sport utility vehicle, soon to be chosen by Better Place.

Better Place said it will also finalize the station site and start operating three to four battery-powered taxis between early January to mid-March.

The electric vehicle service provider hopes to set up 100 battery stations in the next decade in anticipation of converting all the taxis in Tokyo, it said.