Japan's Electric Taxis Falling Out Of Favor With Drivers

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2013 Nissan Leaf (Japanese trim)

2013 Nissan Leaf (Japanese trim)

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All is not well with Japan's electric taxi drivers.

Two years ago, in February 2011, the city of Osaka introduced a fleet of fifty Nissan Leaf taxis. The deal was a cooperative arrangement between Nissan, 30 taxi firms, and the government--each was being subsidized to the tune of 1,780,000 Yen--over $21,000 at the time.

The car's would clean up Japan's clogged streets, an improvement on the ubiquitous, square-jawed Toyota Crown taxis used throughout Japanese cities.

And initially, reports Japan Today, they went down a storm.

“It’s not fatiguing to drive them. There’s no vibration or knocks from the engine,” said one driver. “They just glide smoothly. The electric power is far cheaper than outlays for gasoline, and there are few mechanical failures. Eventually we’re certain that EV taxis will become the most common type on the road.”

It's not surprising to see the reaction, either.

Like many countries, the incumbent taxis are often chosen for their reliability and simplicity, rather than their comfort or driving characteristics. That's why New York is full of hardy Crown Vics, London's streets are crowded with rattling diesel black cabs, and Mexico only recently relinquished the ubiquitous VW Bug. A Nissan Leaf really would feel like the future to the average taxi driver.

Turning tide?

However, problems have begun to emerge.

The first came in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, following 2011's earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

As we reported at the time, many people were worried that electric cars would be giving off the wrong image--conspicuous consumption of electricity at a time when power was in high demand and very short supply. Electricity is no longer seen as the clean, safe option it once was.

There are other issues too--the cars themselves.

While reliable, comfortable and smooth as ever, high-mileage drivers are finding degredation of the battery packs to be an issue.

Where a 60-mile range was once common in regular use, some are finding that cut to as low as 30 miles--and to save energy as much as possible, some drivers are shunning the car's heater in favor of chemical pocket warmers, and even blankets.

Degredation of the battery pack has also had an effect on the battery's ability to take a quick charge. A 15-minute charge has turned into a 40-minute one for many drivers. They can't travel as far, and they can't spend as much time on the road--and it's ruining business, for some. Customers requesting longer trips are even being turned down.

There's no get-out for the drivers, either. To qualify for the government's subsidy, the electric cars must be run for a minimum of three years. That's a year too long for some--“I’m getting out of this business,” said one driver, “This is no way to earn a living.”


Osaka's electric taxi drivers aren't facing unheard-of problems, but nor can their experiences be considered the norm--either for electric car owners, or electric taxi drivers.

Climate, driving routes and charging habits all make a difference to how well a car lasts, and the life of a taxi is never an easy one.

The main issue for Leaf batteries is still excessive heat, rather than cold (though cold climates do reduce the car's range). And as a recent survey showed, frequency of quick charging seems to have little bearing on a battery's life or health.

What it does suggest is that in some localities, electric vehicles aren't yet ready for heavy-duty tasks like taxi work.

While that's no consolation to the drivers losing business through degrading vehicles, progress can only be made by analysing these kind of trials--and it'll make electric taxis of the future much better suited to the task at hand.


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Comments (52)
  1. some figures on mileage, how many charges per day, temperatures etc would be interesting. 30 mile range in less than 3 years sounds bad.

  2. Mexico has 80 LEAF taxis (30 in DF and 50 in Aquascalientes.) While a more recent initiative, I'd be interested to see how those are holding up, especially in the hotter climate. Not cool, Nissan... losing my faith here.

  3. Once again - it's all about the battery.

  4. "Where a 60-mile range was once common in regular use, some are finding that cut to as low as 30 miles--and to save energy as much as possible, some drivers are shunning the car's heater in favor of chemical pocket warmers, and even blankets."

    This is NOT good at all for BEV movement. Combined with cold winter, I am NOT surprised that it is a 30 mile car after few years, extreme cold and 50,000 miles...

  5. Well that just blows my plans to quit my job and turn my Leaf into a taxi. Damn.

  6. "A 15-minute charge has turned into a 40-minute one for many drivers."
    sounds like the drivers used all Level 3 charging, which beats up the batteries. i'd guess the best thing would be to change out the battery packs and take apart the pulled packs for analysis. Even with a 6.6 KW charger, the car would take 4 hours to get to full charge.

  7. 30 mile range is by far the worst news I've seen for the Leaf or any EV for that matter. That's 30% of the range initially claimed by Nissan. I have a 50 mile round trip to work and I've been waiting since 2011 to buy an EV until I can feel comfortable that I won't run into range anxiety on my everyday commute. I thought the improved range on the new Leaf might be enough, but not if the battery degrades at that pace.

    Wouldn't Nissan's new battery warranty cover the taxi that's only getting 30 miles of range? If that 30 miles of range is not accurate, Nissan would do well to rebut/explain that claim. Even if the heat is kept on high, which makes sense for a taxi, anything less than 50 miles on a full 100% charge is really bad.

  8. While important details are missing, it's probably safe to assume that the cab drivers wouldn't wait to hit the low battery warning, they would drive up to an L3 when they still had good amount of charge left. It's also unlikely that they were charging all the way to 100%, because the charge current tapers significantly towards the end. That said, there are other effects to consider as well. At the Phoenix range test last September, there were several LEAFs, which had lost disproportionate amount of range between 100% and the low battery warning. You would have to drive the car near empty for a while, to regain what you apparently have lost. It's as if the behavior of a degraded battery was different, and the gauges didn't work properly.

  9. My commute has been 50 moles one-way for the 17 months I've own my LEAF and my battery is still solid. I just did 80 freeway miles on one charge last week.

  10. do you Level2 charge or Level 3 charge?

  11. What you are omitting to observe is that 80 freeway miles is not nearly the same as stop-start driving with a minimum of two occupants.

    Plus, I believe the battery situation is an awful con/manipulation by the powers that be. i.e. the corporations involved in all the shenanigans going on behind closed doors.
    Get the DVD out of the store, 'Who Killed the Electric Car'. http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com/
    You'll gain a valuable education about corporate gangsters right there in the good ol' U S of A.

    Decent batteries won't be put in the cars until the gazzillionaire petroleum producers can find a way to screw another buck out of the consumer.

    Back in 2006

  12. Your concerns, Mr. Moloney, are real and the only EV that fits your needs is the Chevy Volt. This vehicle is the only way to go, as of to date, into the EV world. I have my sights on one. A previously owned Volt. I have a hybrid and I love it when it runs on electrical power. Once you taste it, it is in your system. I recommend you look into a Volt. It is EV. it is plug-in capable or, it has its own onboard generator. Good luck.

  13. There are more comments in this thread
  14. Been complaining right along that Nissan needs to address their range issues; this and the Phoenix, AZ problems indicates they have a major problem with the current battery chemistry. Carlos, where are you? Better do something soon or you will prove to be a disappointment to your fans.

  15. Hmm, if verified, this would be a pretty big deal (much more so than the lies the NYTimes and Tesla have been exchanging lately), but so far I can't seem to find anything corroborating this story.

    The closest I came across is this: http://www.japantoday.com/category/kuchikomi/view/osakas-great-ev-taxi-experiment-does-a-slow-burnout
    from which the above article is almost a straight copy-paste.
    In it, the same "one driver" who claims having lost over half capacity also states for example "what's more, there are only eight charging stations in all of Osaka city”. Here's a map showing just fast-chargers (and maybe not even all of them): http://goo.gl/maps/pTrxC

    So, not very convincing... Does anyone have more reliable source(s) or data?

  16. The Japan Today story is the source of this article, I believe. It's linked in the copy Antony authored as well. If you are looking for additional cases of LEAF batteries wearing out with large number of cycles, there is Steve Marsh in Kent, WA. His one way commute is a bit more than 60 miles one-way, and he puts on a lot of miles on his LEAF as a result. Steve was interviewed a year ago by this very publication. Did not have a problem to report back then. http://bit.ly/stevecommentmnl

  17. Just O; ya, one of many shaky points made in the article. other than Estonia, Japan has the largest concentration of chademo chargers in the world. the map you posted looks like their are a "bit" more than 8 in the area...

  18. I now have 37,000 miles on my Nissan LEAF. Without details, this story is irritating at best. Having lived in Japan for a couple of years, I know that taxi driver there do not turn off their engines. Given that it is now winter, I can see how just waiting with heater use in 1st generation Nissan LEAF would have less range.
    "15 minute charge is now a 40 minute charge" means nothing without knowing the state of charge upon completion.
    I DC quick charge 3-5 times per week and have since getting the car, my battery is unaffected.

  19. this is NOT REPORTING. its only repeating an already published story without verifying or clarifying anything. what about successful LEAF taxi companies? there are plenty of them as well. When in Japan last month, the LEAF taxi's in Yokohama were still going strong.

    i think the real issue of this story is disgruntled taxi owners upset over the charging infrastructure or a clause in their contracts. there should be no reason why they have to "drive to charge" its just poor management

  20. I thought you are going to try to get more data from the other cab companies. Where is it? Why the accusatory tone, is it necessary?

  21. That is why, David, I posted a large "perspective" section at the end, clarifying that the drivers' habits here are not the norm, AND that quick charging on its own isn't necessarily the cause of the issues, given that a recent survey (linked) showed that there's little correlation between quick charging and battery deg.

    If you're able to provide more clear data on Japan's other Leaf taxis than "I was there last month and they seemed fine", then we'd welcome it - we're always interested to offer a variety of viewpoints.

    In the absence of anything solid though, we can only report on the cases we find.

  22. Report what you got, but try and cite as much as you can, can you cite the taxi companies, and where they are, and any idea on miles clocked per cab, etc...

    But Nissan should use this as an opprtunity to determine what's the limits on the Leaf

  23. Here in Chicago, we have some pretty cold parts to the winter and pretty hot summers. I have not seen a LEAF taxi, but a ton of hybrids. Mostly Toyota Priuses & Camrys. They seem to be doing alright.

  24. Kit, thanks for that. These cars likely use NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) batteries, and not LMO (manganese spinel lithium-ion) like the LEAF. That could very well make all the difference.

  25. The battery degradation issue is why I'm wondering: Who, exactly, is going to buy all those LEAFs that have been leased in the U.S., and what price are Nissan dealers actually going to be able to get for LEAFs that have already been driven tens of thousands of miles? I wouldn't buy one -- unless they are very cheap, would you?

  26. with one bar loss of capacity, you could easily export these used cars as a bargain to Norway, Sweden or Denmark.. with their cool weather you could easily get a decade extra out of the battery.. and $8 a gallon fuel is a big incentive.

  27. 1-2 years from now, you will be able to pick up a used 2011-12 LEAF in the U.S. for approximately $10,000.

  28. That would be a fun project car for $10k...

  29. If electric cars don't work for Taxi Drivers, then they are not worth it at all.
    Taxi Drivers are the ultimate testers for reliability and longevity of cars.

  30. If everyone switched to electric cars, we would need 7 times more power plants. These power plants would burn oil or coal or use nuclear radiation power.

    Electric cars are simply not green. They just shift the source of pollution elsewhere. They are also not efficient use of oil since you have to burn more barrels of oil to power an electric car than that used to power a gas car.

    Far better are hybrids or alternative fuel source cars - such as alcohol or biodiesel cars. They have renewable sources of energy.

  31. @James: No, actually, that's not true. (Please provide sources for these rather audacious claims.)

    According to the landmark 2007 EPRI-NRDC study (look it up), if we convert fully two-thirds of U.S. vehicle miles to plug-in power, it would add only 8 percent to total U.S. grid power demand assuming *most* (not all) of the charging is done at night.

    And that two-thirds level won't be reached for DECADES, if ever.

    Similarly, the wells-to-wheels carbon footprint of an electric car fueled on the very dirtiest grids in the nation (WV and ND) is lower than a 25-mpg car. In CA, which will buy more plug-ins than the next 5 states combined, it's equivalent to a 100-mpg car. Which doesn't exist.

  32. My numbers were 30% but still not a huge stretch.

  33. If you're going to repost the same old oft-debunked meme, at least back it up with some math.

  34. @James Katt,

    I have done the math for you. You can go to EIA's website and look up the numbers yourself. If 1million EVs all drive 40 miles per day and charge on the grid, it would only add 0.38% to the existing US grid load.

    10 Million EVs? That is 3.8%.
    100 Millions EVs? That is only 38% at most.

    That is assuming all of them drive 40 miles/day. Many people drive less than that.

    So, I don't know where you get that 7x from. Out of thin air?

  35. There are more comments in this thread
  36. Hybrids, I think, are the ONLY energy-efficient means for taxis (Take a look at NYC's fleet, now and future) just because of the daily and overall life-cycle of the vehicles.

    Given that it really seems to prove to me that performance of all-electric vehicles really is still "unknown" (For some, LEAF battery range isn't a problem, for others it is... Yada yada yada...) I think BEVs are really still "experimental" and is no where NEAR "mass market adoption--despite Ghoen's and Musk's talk.

    That said, I'm still happy that Nissan, Tesla, Ford and others ARE taking the steps! (And it's why I still am HAPPY that I leased a Ford Focus Electric!)

  37. This story seems fishy, like some complainers that are making unsubstantiated claims. If they truly lost capacity they would be covered u der Nissan's new capacity warranty.

  38. I thought Nissan announced that they were going to warranty LEAF batteries that experienced premature degradation. Is that only in the USA?

  39. The right solution for EV taxis is battery switch. Better Place launched in Sept 2012 a Battery Switch Station in Amsterdam, Holland. They reported recently : We want to keep you updated with the progress and let you know that it's going AMAZINGLY! Just last week one of our taxis did a record 592 km's in just ONE day last week. With taxis, time is money. Thanks to Better Place they can now Drive-Switch-Go! Yeah, it's that simple.

  40. Oh yea. I have placed close to 500 KM on my car in a single day, using the batt-swap stations, and its getting better, more automatic all the time

  41. Maybe the standard Nissan leaf isn't the car for the job, the battery being rather small and marginally engineered.

    Maybe Nissan could do a cabby version of the Leaf using Toshiba's SCiB battery. The rugged lithium titanate chemistry should be able to handle what cabbies throw at it like endless fast charging. It would be more expensive upfront but cost per mile should be substantially lower.

  42. This is the typical generic, not credible, with no data article from a "green" site. After 2 years of operation 31000 miles of hilly terrain with hot summers I have not experienced any degradation. If you want to make a point you must be truthful. This article is not.

  43. So because your experience, among tens of thousands of Leafs, differs from that presented in the article, it makes the article "untruthful"?

    I'm afraid what you have there is "a different view", rather than "the truth".

  44. Elp, I am a regular here and a huge EV fan (even setting up the National Plug In Day event here in Ohio). But you have to remember that a leaf as a taxi is driven every day, all day, constantly charged and discharged with regenerative braking, quick charging, AC, etc. The fact is that the Leaf's battery is just the wrong chemistry for a taxi, it is not a chemistry you want to use for a lot of cycling. A Tesla Model S would do much better, thanks to its battery chemistry and size.

  45. The new capacity warranty is limited to 60,000 miles and 5 years. Most of the cabs in Osaka were likely over this mileage limit when the warranty was announced in the US on December 27 and in the UK on January 11.

  46. Well, if they had chosen the Better Place system with the Fluence ZE all of these problems would not be there. No quick-charging, most charging to be done at low demand time, and low performing battery shunted out of service, and five minute switch instead of 40 minute charge. Had they placed 12-15 batt-switch stations all over the city then no haul is too far. Last week i drove from lehavim to Eilat, 260 KM using one batt-switch only, and charged at the hotel.

  47. Of course the cabby would have to refuse passengers with large bags because the Fluence's trunk...that's where the battery lives. One of the reasons BP isn't successful is that it doesn't have a particularly clever engineered car on offer I think.

    Generally speaking I can see the combination battery switching/cabs work though. Mind you: the cost of one switch station buys you a lot of fastchargers.

  48. There is a solution, in theory for now, for electric taxi fleets on project www.ev-motion.com, where vehicles could switch their battery packs at one of the units of pat. pending ARIES (Automated Recharging Instant-switching Electric Stations) and back to work in a few seconds. They could have EVs. carrying cheaper (Like VRLA or small Li-Ion packs) batteries and swappable on the way. This would allow the vehicle to have a lower price tag than gas powered ones and battery degradation would be detached from the picture. "Fuel" bills and maintenance costs would be dramatically decreased also. Our first patent US 8256553 was issues last September.

  49. The Leaf's battery is too small and not the right chemistry for this power use. The taxis need to go to the basic Model S, the batteries will last much longer and it has a longer range so charging will not be something you have to plan around. The Model S is a perfect taxi after you figure in the fuel savings, even if it is nearly twice the cost of the average taxi, it pays for the premium in just a couple years, so a 3+ year load would actually be cheaper than the conventional car with fuel savings.

  50. Much of what you say is my kind of thinking. Much of the problem with the Leaf is not the car itself ,,, But the battery is too small for this kind of application.
    Batteries are expensive so I think we may eventually see a tiered modular battery system built into EV's where you pay for what you need and can afford ,,, with the ability to upgrade to a bigger battery if needed when you can afford it.
    What we may see is new EV's sold with a 40Kwh starter battery that can easily be upgraded with more cells.

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