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Battery-Switching Technology Electrifies Tokyo's Taxi Industry

2010-04-28 10:43 AM EST Last Updated: 2010-04-28 12:29 PM EST

Electric taxis are one step closer to becoming more popular on Japanese streets. On Monday, the first trial run of a new taxi service in Tokyo that uses a system to quickly switch out depleted batteries.

The tests are primarily funded by the Japanese government as a 90-day pilot project to demonstrate the feasibility of such a system.

Electric vehicles have received a lot of attention in recent years as an emission-free form of transport. And in the case of Tokyo's approximately 60,000 taxis, they account for a disproportionately large share of emissions due to their much heavier use compared to normal passenger vehicles.

[Kiyotaka Fujii, President, Better Place]:

"Although taxis only constitute 2% of passenger vehicles, they constitute nearly 20% in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. By turning this sector electric, although it may be small overall, the effect that it can have on the environment is quite large."

While electric taxis are not new and another electric taxi service is already operating in Tokyo, their usefulness has been limited by slow battery recharging which costs valuable time that could be used to ferry customers.

Faced with this problem, the founder and CEO of Better Place explained that being able to switch out batteries is the only way to allow drivers to continue driving without having to worry about costly downtime.

[Shai Agassi, CEO, Better Place]:

"A taxi will not be possible if you had to drive for an hour and charge for six hours, which is the normal cycle we had in mind for an electric vehicle. Our taxis will go for six hours and switch a battery in under one minute. That is a more convenient driving cycle than today's taxis that go on fossil fuel."

The first charging station only serves three taxis but once in full operation, each charging station is capable of serving 200 taxis.

[Shai Agassi, CEO, Better Place]:

"We can actually have a station ready every week in Tokyo and by the end of the project, six years from now, have every taxi in Tokyo driving on electric power with switchable batteries at which point, one million people in Tokyo will drive in an electric car every day."

Agassi also told reporters that their battery switching taxi system would become cost-effective once it crossed a threshold of approximately 50,000 cars.

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