Volkswagen Adding €1.6B to Investment for China; €6B Total
MassCEC Approves $5M Forgivable Loan for A123 Systems; Targeted at Expansion for Grid Storage Systems

Better Place Launches Switchable-Battery Electric Taxi Project in Tokyo; Converted Crossovers with A123 Systems Packs

Electric taxi driving through Ginza in Tokyo. Source: Better Place. Click to enlarge.

Better Place launched a 90-day switchable-battery electric taxi in Tokyo in partnership with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and Nihon Kotsu, Tokyo’s largest taxi operator. The project marks the next major milestone leading up to a complete system test of all components of the company’s electric vehicle solution in Israel before year-end.

Better Place worked on the design, engineering and conversion of the Nissan gasoline-powered, crossover utility vehicles, turning them into electric taxis with switchable batteries. The batteries for these cars are provided by A123 Systems.

Battery being lifted into the underbelly of the electric taxi during battery switch process. Click to enlarge.

For the Tokyo electric taxi project, Better Place and Nihon Kotsu, Tokyo’s largest taxi operator, are operating three switchable-battery electric taxis, which are available to the public at the taxi line reserved for environmentally-friendly vehicles on the first floor of the Roppongi Hills Complex.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry commissioned Better Place to conduct the Tokyo project as a result of the company’s successful demonstration in Yokohama last year. (Earlier post.)

Tokyo has more taxis than London, Paris, and New York combined, with approximately 60,000 vehicles, representing a high mileage, high visibility segment that can serve as the catalyst for this technology to transfer to the mass market.

Since our initial announcement of this project, we’ve heard from cities around the world interested in converting their taxi fleets as a concrete way to fight CO2 emissions and urban pollution. Electric taxis are a pragmatic step forward for governments as well as a lucrative segment in the electrification of transport.

—Kiyotaka Fujii, President of Better Place Japan

The battery switch station deployed in Tokyo represents a significant advancement over the Yokohama switch system demonstrated a year ago. The Tokyo switch station features the integration of battery storage and charging with optimal thermal management capabilities. The Tokyo switch station also features nearly continuous operation of switching batteries for the three vehicles while optimizing battery life and performance, which can be monitored in real time online.

The industry is proposing various solutions to address extended range, but Better Place contends that battery switch is the only feasible option—from the perspective of cost, flexibility (with the ability to manage charge time to less than 5 minutes), and technology-that will work in the near-term while offering a convenient, effective charging solution.

The taxi project will demonstrate the duration, durability and robustness of the battery switch process and battery resistance to degradation under actual operating conditions with vehicles that operate nearly continuously and thus drive much more than average passenger vehicles.

By year-end, Better Place will test all components of its solution in Israel as the company continues to gear up for commercial launch in Israel and Denmark in late 2011. The complete Better Place solution integrates charge spots, in-car software, operations centers, cars, and batteries, in addition to switch stations, all managed as an intelligent network.



With that many taxis in Tokyo they should be electrified as soon as possible. It would help the air quality. Quick charge units (at taxi stands) may be more practical that changing the battery pack 3 or 4 times a day.


Maybe, I am wrong and maybe this will work out for special purpose vehicles such as taxis bit I do not think that the battery change concept will work for the general market in the US. I know that I would not place my money down to bet on this technology. I think that the best technology for the general public is the plug-in serial hybrid such as the Volt. I would think that having plug-in or maybe inductive coupling recharging at taxi stands would be a better solution but that depends on the taxis going to a fixed spot and waiting. So I will agree with HarveyD on this.

Account Deleted

It is interesting to see that Better Place have chosen A123 for their batteries and not the standard Nissan Renault batteries. This could be evidence that A123 has a more durable battery that makes more sense for commercial vehicles that almost are operated around the clock.

I have been following the development of EVs and PHEVs for some years now at GCC and other websites but it is only recently that I have been able to see for my selves that it is happening in my own neighborhood here in Copenhagen. For instance, Better Place has put up a couple of chargers and I saw a Tesla yesterday using the Better Place charger via an adapter and there have also been a few Think Cities driving around which I think are related to a local car sharing scheme. So I at least have a good feeling that EVs are coming to my town and I expect to see both Renaults EVs and the iMiEV in volume late next year.

At first I did not believe in battery swapping either but it is still the only near term solution to get a full tank on an EV in less than 5 minutes (Better Place targets 2 minutes swaps). Fast charging takes much longer so far 30 minutes. This is no good for a commercial vehicle like a Taxi that needs to be available most of the time and that may need to do 5 or 6 battery swaps a day in order to do 420 miles in comfort on a 100 mile range battery. Also the batteries will get smaller making battery swapping more flexible and manageable. For instance, Panasonic will launch a 800Wh/L battery using the 18650 form factor in 2012. Using this cell you could do a 100 mile range battery or about 24 kWh in less than 50 liters everything included. That is small.


Battery swapping has one distinct advantage. The battery is not owned by the vehicle owner. This may externalize the cost of the battery and allow a lower cost of ownership. So it may lower the price barrier to general ownership.

It also allows centralized processing of car batteries in general. This would facilitate recycling and recovery.

I'm not saying that this should be the model of usage but it does have it's advantages. In the case of taxis it maybe the only real way of electrifying a fleet of taxis on a continuous basis.

Thomas Lankester


I do not think air quality will be affected dramatically in this case as Tokyo has had CNG taxis for over 15 years.


Taxis normally spend a total of many hours each day idle at a taxi stand. If those stands were equipped with wireless quick charging units, couldn't every cab pick up enough charge between runs?


I dont know about Tokyo, but in Miami, Fl USA taxis usually drive 100-200 miles in a 10 hour day.. according to a cousin of mine that owns a taxi company. They get to spend a lot of time waiting around also. He usually replaces starter/batteries in less than a year, a problem electric cars wont have. Lots of transmission problems also but a lot depends on how aggressive the driver is.


One alternative to battery swapping is electrifying the roads;

Or build what's called an "E-guideway";

Of course this kind of infrastructure wont be cost effective until a whole lot more people are driving BEVs.


I would think quick charge would be easier and adequate (but maybe this is one trial that may make sense - ouch).

If you have a fare that must travel too far, will it really help to stop at the battery depot?

It does externalize the cost of batteries - how about I rent my gas tank from Ford ?

- oh wait, no, it's the gas that costs.

Roger Pham

A123 batteries can be fully charged in 20 minutes. However, due to the high current required for this, a one-hour charge may be more appropriate in designated areas.

Why not swap out the whole car, uh...taxicab? Just park the battery-exhausted BEV to be charged, and pick up a freshly-charged one? Since a taxi cab may be driven for several hours before requiring a charge, this means that the total number of extra taxi cab required for this swapping deal is only 25-33% higher than the total number BEV taxis required.

This swapping of the whole BEV may be a lot cheaper than building battery-swapping infrastructure that requires that every new BEV must meet strict specification for battery swapping.

In the entire-BEV swapping scheme, the BEV's can assume various battery sizes, shapes, and configurations, in order to adapt to various delivery missions, for example, limousines, vans, and smaller vehicles, something difficult to do with the Better Place battery swapping scheme!


A123 batteries (perhaps not the prismatic ones) can be charged in 10 minutes, I have been doing that routinely for several years.

The comments to this entry are closed.