Battery-rechargeable Electric Taxis Hit Streets in Japan

Apr 27, 2010
Naoshige Shimizu, Nikkei Electronics
Better Place Japan started testing electric taxis with a replaceable battery.
Better Place Japan started testing electric taxis with a replaceable battery.
[Click to enlarge image]
The battery replacement station in Minato Ward, Tokyo
The battery replacement station in Minato Ward, Tokyo
[Click to enlarge image]
The battery can be replaced in about a minute. The elevating machine below the vehicle is used to replace the battery.
The battery can be replaced in about a minute. The elevating machine below the vehicle is used to replace the battery.
[Click to enlarge image]

Better Place Japan Co Ltd started the field test of an electric vehicle (EV) with a replaceable battery April 26, 2010.

In the test, the company uses three EVs as taxis. And it disclosed a battery replacement station built in Tokyo. Three batteries are available at the station. When a taxi comes to the station, its battery will be replaced in about a minute.

"It is much faster than charging a battery," Better Place Japan said. "So, it will drastically improve the convenience of electric vehicles."

The period of the field test, which is subsidized by Japan's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, is about three months (till the end of July 2010). Though the company has not yet decided what they will do after the test, it intends to run several tens of electric taxis by the end of 2011.

The three taxis, which are stationed at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, are operated by Nihon Kotsu Co Ltd. The replaceable battery is a lithium-ion (Li-ion) rechargeable battery that is made by A123 Systems Inc and has a capacity of 17kWh. It runs about 70 to 80km per charge, Better Place Japan said.

"In the future, we will purchase batteries from several manufacturers," the company said.

The electric taxi is Nissan Motor Co Ltd's Dualis compact SUV revamped by Tokyo R&D Co Ltd. A total of four EVs were prepared: three for actual operation and one for demonstration at the station.

The station will open to the public May 1, 2010. Also, Better Place Japan developed a system to monitor the usage of the rechargeable battery in real time by using wireless communication.

The press conference held by Better Place Japan was attended by Ichiro Fukue, vice president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). Better Place Japan and MHI are cooperating in the development of a battery replacement system.

"The convenience of battery-replaceable EVs is very high," Fukue said. "If it is recognized by the public, they are highly likely to become common."

MHI is planning to develop a battery replacement system for electric buses in or after 2011 and equip the buses with its own Li-ion batteries.