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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

First Battery Swap Taxis go into service in Tokyo


This week sees a new kind of Taxi cab motoring around Tokyo, a fully electric version that has removable and swappable battery packs, via an automated station.  The Taxis drive about 50 miles before pulling into an automated battery swap center.  The battery pack is swapped out in the station in less then 60 seconds and the Taxi is back on the road.  Meanwhile the depleted battery pack is recharged and an hour later is ready to go back into a taxi, fully recharged.

Taxis are only 2% of the population, but contribute 20% of Tokyo's carbon footprint.  Right now there are only three of these cabs on the streets, but after the 90 day test run, there could eventually be as many as 60,000 on the road after that, supported by around 300 charging swap stations about Tokyo.

Perhaps the best part is that it's an American company that's providing the technology; California's Better Place.  The small company has managed to make big splashes in the electric car industry.  They already have a deal, providing 100,000 batteries to international car maker Renault for use in Israel and Denmark as well as with Chinese car company Chery Automotive.  They also claim to be in negotiations with other car companies and hope that as we see how successful their units on the road are, consumers start understanding and accepting the idea and benefits that come with a swappable battery electric vehicle.

California's Better Place understands that the needs of a Taxi and those of a regular driver, especially an American one are quite different.  Taxis spend most of their time driving very few miles and in a concentrated area, ideal conditions for an electric vehicle that can swap it's battery packs for a fresh one on a moments notice, it's another for someone who may drive to work and back, but then on a long trip on the weekend.

While swappable automotive battery packs could theoretically give an electric vehicle unlimited driving range, it would also require a massive swap station infrastructure, which even though the price tag is undisclosed, it's quite clear that it would be unfeasible to implement large scale at this time.  However, while it may not be the ultimate solution, it is a very effective one for taxis, shuttles, and other short range, high mile vehicles.