Want to Hail An Electric Taxi Cab? Head for San Francisco

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Better Place Battery Switching Test, Yokohama Japan

Better Place Battery Switching Test, Yokohama Japan

Urban taxi service may be the equal of any proving-ground torture test. Taxis are driven hard, up to 20 hours a day, and must handle both bad roads and bad drivers. Those that survive without falling apart should do fine in civilian duty.

Which is why Better Place chose Tokyo to test out its battery quick-swap technology six months ago--and why it's now expanding that test to San Francisco as well.

The company has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to bring its switchable-battery electric taxi program to the San Francisco Bay Area, in partnership with the municipal governments of both San Francisco and San Jose.

As Better Place says in its press release, "Taxis are a high-mileage, high-visibility segment that can serve as the on-ramp for technology transfer to the mass-market." And their high annual mileage means emissions reductions in taxi fleets have an effect far greater than the number of vehicles might suggest.

Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Marin County, California

Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Marin County, California

Enlarge Photo

The company will build and operate four battery switch stations in the 50-mile-long corridor from San Francisco to San Jose. That route, not coincidentally, passes through the heart of Silicon Valley--as well as including Palo Alto, home of not only Stanford University but also Better Place's U.S. headquarters.

The program involves a breathtaking number of local and regional municipal government and quasi-governmental agencies, advocacy groups, and utilities commissions.

Perhaps more important, it also has both professional taxi operators and car sharing programs as partners, including Yellow Cab Cooperative and Yellow Checker Cab Inc.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom went so far as to call the announcement another step toward making the San Francisco Bay Area "the electric-vehicle capital of America."

The EV taxi program launched in Tokyo on April 26, with taxis operated by the city's largest operator, Nihon Kotsu.

better place battery switch station 005

better place battery switch station 005

Enlarge Photo

Better Place says that in the first 90 days of the test, the fleet of four taxis covered more than 25,000 miles, with the battery switching stations providing extra range when needed. In August, the trial was extended for a further three months.

The electric taxis themselves are modified from the Nissan Dualis compact crossover, similar to the U.S.-market 2010 Nissan Rogue. The 17-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is said to provide approximately 56 miles of range.

Switching the packs, Better Place says, takes a mere 60 seconds in its automated switch stations, with passengers remaining in the vehicle. The Tokyo test is meant to find out whether the pack-swapping process can work when used frequently, and what effect it has on the battery packs themselves.

Better Place is continuing to deploy its charging networks and battery-switching infrastructure in the two markets where it will debut, Israel and Denmark. The company says that its commercial launch will come in late 2011.

[Better Place]

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Comments (7)
  1. Really, just a straight up copy from the press release with no additional context or opinion?
    Does it really make sense to spend millions of dollars of US government money on building battery switch stations that do not work on the Volt, LEAF, CODA. the Ford Focus, or any other EV?
    Do switch stations even make sense? How about the all hybrid taxi program in Boston, or the push to CNG vehicles for these applications?
    I really wonder about the wisdom of the Better Place system as well as the massive early investment of charging stations for EVs.
    Too bad the Shai Agassi has the Press Core under his spell.
    John C. Briggs

  2. @John: Yep, sometimes we do news stories based on press releases. This story includes links to past stories we've done as well, so it's hardly cut-and-paste.
    We've covered battery swapping--and some of the scepticism about it--in other pieces on ACE and also GreenCarReports.com.

  3. Hi John and John,
    Sorry about that but the more we advance in time, the more switching stations become interesting, and the less public charging post are.
    The fact is that two main questions arise :
    1. in town when a charging post is in use, ... for a longer time than 10 minutes ..., it is of no use for you ...and your range indicator is near zero, bad chance. But a very likely situation.
    2. Mny urban people do not have a place to conveniently charge their car from their home, however EV are mainly for use in urban areas ... some marketing studies show that urban people do not want to charge in public places : what if it rains, if you are with your children around you and you have to manipulate a dirty, potentially dangerous, chewed cable, put it in the trunk or in the charging post, etc.
    It would be better to go and take a minute or two to exchange the battery in the charging station without even to leave the wheel.
    Best regards,
    JC J.

  4. And may I add, this is the link to an interesting simulation paper by the University of Munich (Germany).
    It shows that switching stations help to more efficiently use renewable resources than charging posts.
    B R
    JC J.

  5. Hi JC,
    Great insight as always.
    Best regards.

  6. @JC: Interesting perspectives, and thanks for the link to the research on Better Place's site.
    I would point out that switching stations and a stock of spare high-capacity packs for multiple vehicles are going to be quite expensive, no matter how much information technology you throw at the problem to predict demand.
    Charging stations, on the other hand, are relatively inexpensive to install--especially for businesses and retailers. And at least in the U.S., many people expect large retailers to offer free charging as a means to entice consumers to come to and stay at their stores for awhile. For what it's worth ...

  7. Ok John, I admit we could debate for years about the economics of both solutions. Market forces and public incentives will play their role as usual but the practical aspects for the consumer matter too.
    best regards to you and to Noel Park.

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