Tokyo is to launch the first fleet of taxis that are powered by electric batteries that can be changed at roadside switching stations.

The pilot project is to start on April 26 at a ceremony at the Roppongi Hills complex in the center of Tokyo and brings together Japan's largest taxi firm, Nihon Kotsu, the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry and Better Place, which is behind the electric vehicle technology.

Taxis are being used for the test program because although they represent only 2 percent of the passenger vehicles on Japan's roads, they account for fully 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from this category of vehicle because of the distances that they travel every day.

Tokyo has around 60,000 taxis - far more than New York, Paris or Hong Kong - and Better Place believes this project will demonstrate the possibilities for electric vehicles that exist.

While many are attracted to EVs, their main drawback is their limited range. At present, most are only able to travel a maximum of 160 km without needing to be topped up, which makes longer journeys impossible until the infrastructure is created.

But Shai Agassi, who set up Better Place in 2007, has a different take on the problem. He wants to set up charging spots to keep car batteries fueled, located beside your parking spot at the office, outside shopping malls, restaurants or at home. Just plug the car in.

For journeys of further than 160 km, battery switching stations will be constructed alongside roads. The changeover will be completely automated and the driver will not even have to leave the vehicle.

As an added bonus, as most electric vehicles will be recharged during the evening at home, energy from renewable sources - such as solar power or wind energy - will be used to top up the car.

 "Better Place is building the world’s first battery switch station for electric vehicles to showcase this technology in the world’s biggest auto-manufacturing nation," said Kiyotaka Fujii, president of Better Place Japan and head of business development for the Asia-Pacific region.

"The switch station is an important part of our network, one of the main goals of which is convenience. The station acts as a range extender, giving drivers the option of extending a trip beyond the 160-km range of a fully charged battery."

Japan's Ministry of the Environment has set a target of having half of all the new vehicles sold in the year 2020 being powered by electricity in order to inch closer to the carbon-free society that the government is seeking.

At the moment, Israel leads the world with its commitment to Better Place's electric vehicles and construction of charge spots and battery switch stations predicted to increase over the next two years and with commercial availability commencing in 2011.

Working with Renault-Nissan, similar projects are scheduled for completion in Denmark, Australia, California and Hawaii.


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