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Moves to introduce electric vehicles as taxicabs are gaining momentum on the back of increasing local government subsidy programs and awareness in the industry of the advantages of such environmentally friendly vehicles.

Cab operators’ awareness of the potential of EV taxicabs to improve their image in the eyes of consumers is also behind the growing moves, industry observers said.

Nissan Motor Co. said it has received 6,000 domestic orders for its Leaf electric car, which will be released in December.

Of the total, 250 orders came from taxi firms and individual operators of owner-driven cabs, it said.

Nissan has not disclosed the breakdown of the Leaf orders by area. But the Kanagawa Prefectural Government said 24 of the prefecture’s taxi companies are planning to buy a total of 42 Leafs.

In Osaka Prefecture, 32 corporate and individual operators of taxicabs envisage purchasing a total of 50 Leafs.

The two prefectures are offering subsidies for EV purchases. The number of electric cabs is expected to increase as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and many other municipalities are providing similar subsidies.

Only five EVs were being used as taxis nationwide as of Dec. 31, according to the Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations.

Nobuo Ide, one of the federation’s top executives, said: “We are encouraging the taxi industry to introduce low-pollution vehicles. . . . Since our customers who experienced a ride in such vehicles have given them high marks, (EV introductions) may stimulate demand for our taxi services.”

Last year, Kashiwazaki Taxi Co. in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, became the first domestic taxi company to adopt an EV, adding a Mitsubishi Motors Corp. i-MiEV compact to its fleet. Its initiative was followed by similar moves by taxi companies in Tokyo and Kyoto Prefecture.

In July, Fuji Taxi Co. in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, started around the clock operations of an i-MiEV.

But industry officials said there are problems in using EVs as taxicabs, such as the small number of electricity chargers for such cars, which makes it hard to transport customers to distant locations.

Kashiwazaki Taxi President Kazuhiko Yoshida also said the passenger compartment of an i-MiEV and its luggage space are too small for a taxi cab.

Still, the industry observers noted that EVs provide the advantages of lower noise and vibration levels than most gasoline-powered vehicles.

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