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Better Place teams up with Japan for battery-switching electric taxis

A Better Place battery-switching station demonstration in Yokohama, Japan last May. Photo from Better Place

Better Place is teaming up with Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to develop the world’s first electric taxis with switchable batteries in Tokyo. Nihon Kotsu, Tokyo’s largest taxi operator, will have this green makeover in January 2010.

The Better Place switch station works by replacing empty batteries with new ones, which is much faster than recharging at charging stations. The driver enters a lane with machines that release the car’s depleted battery to be swiftly replaced by a new full battery in less time, the company claims, than it takes to fill a tank with gasoline. The depleted battery is placed in a storage room and recharged to be available to other drivers.

Tokyo R&D Co., a specialist in automotive engineering and production, will supply the electric taxis based on commercial cars. They will be modified with the necessary battery latch mechanisms and given computer software to make them work.

Tokyo R&D will also build Better Place battery switch stations along Roppongi Hills in Central Tokyo. Up to four electric taxis will be deployed on an existing taxi lane for environmentally-friendly vehicles at the Roppongi Hills complex. These vehicles will be a part of the Nihon Kotsu taxi fleet.

Japanese taxis represent a mere 2% of all passenger vehicles on the road in Japan, but they emit approximately 20% of all the carbon dioxide spewed by cars. Tokyo has a fleet of 60,000 taxis, far greater than taxis in New York, Paris or Hong Kong.

“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 the group’s head of business development for Asia Pacific. “It also enables us to begin to convert taxis to clean, zero emission transportation,” Fujii added.

Last Tuesday, Better Place, through its subsidiary, also partnered with the University of Melbourne to study the impact of adoption of electric vehicles throughout Australia. Both of them said that they have plans plan to develop an energy education facility at the main university campus to educate the public.

The company will be participating in the 2009 International Motor Show in Frankfurt from September 17-27. Better Place is the world’s leading electric vehicle services provider with headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

-   Oliver M. Bayani

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