Tokyo goes electric
Three electric cabs began a 90-day trial in Tokyo on Monday that officials and the company involved say could eventually lead to the electrification of the city's entire taxi fleet.
The cabs run on lithium-ion batteries that can be changed in less than one minute with a fully charged one. The charge starts running low after 300 kilometres (190 miles), according to Better Place, the California-based electric-vehicle services provider that's part of the government-backed project.
There is only one such "switch station" in Tokyo now, and the city would need 300 for the entire fleet of 60,000 cabs on Tokyo streets - more than New York, London and Paris combined - to go electric, said Better Place Chief Executive Shai Agassi.
He said the move to electric is inevitable because the burgeoning number of cars in countries like China is sure to push up oil prices while the price of electric vehicles is sure to come down like flat-panel TVs.
"There is no other alternative," Agassi said at an opening ceremony.
Ichiro Kawanabe, president of Nihon Kotsu taxi company, Tokyo's biggest, which is cooperating with the test run, said plans after the 90-day test run are undecided.
"We wanted to contribute to society through cabs," he said.
Although cabs make up just two per cent of vehicles in Japan, they account for 20 per cent of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions, said Kiyotaka Fujii, president of Better Place Japan.
Japan has set an ambitious target of reducing CO2 emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Government officials expressed hopes the project will serve as a model for other cities.
Ryuji Masuno, a transport ministry director, said electric vehicles should be more than a fad in Japan.
"We hope these cabs will work as a display window for the technology."
Japan is home to some of the world's top automakers, including Nissan Motor Co and Mitsubishi Motors Corp, which are taking orders for electric vehicles from regular car buyers.
Those vehicles are different from the ones Better Place is using for the Tokyo cab project. Their batteries can't be switched and so require time for recharging.
Better Place has electric vehicle projects in California, Israel, Denmark and France. Over the weekend, the company signed a deal with Chinese automaker Chery Automobile Co to jointly develop a switchable-battery vehicle prototype.