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Japan gets battery swapping electric taxis

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You'll soon have a one-in-15,000 chance of hailing an all-electric taxi when in Tokyo.

The electric-vehicle entrepreneurs at Better Place have announced a partnership with Tokyo's largest taxi fleet, Nihon Kotsu, to conduct a pilot project that will supply "up to four" prototype electric cabs to a city that currently houses 60,000 taxis.

Electric taxis aren't new - Manganese Bronze has teamed up with The Tanfield Group to supply them to Londoners, for example. What is new in Wednesday's announcement is that the Nihon Kotsu taxis will be based on Better Place's swappable battery system.

Also notable is the help that Better Place and Nihon Katsu are getting from the Japanese government. The project will be supported by the country's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry's Natural Resources and Energy Agency.

As Kiyotaka Fujii, president of Better Place Japan, explained, "Japan continues to be a leader in automotive engineering and innovation, and the government's funding of Better Place for the world's first battery switchable electric taxis is a testament to the country’s commitment to sustainable transportation."

The taxis will have their batteries swapped at the sprawling Roppongi Hills art, office, and entertainment complex, just west of the Tokyo's übertrendy Roppongi shopping and nightlife district.

Nihon Kotsu intends to treat the electric taxis exactly as it does the rest of its fleet - sending them on regular routes and tying them up in Tokyo's notorious rush-hour traffic just as if they were standard gas-powered vehicles.

Although the pilot program is a small one, it's another small victory for Better Place founder and CEO Shai Agassi, who has written on his blog, The Long Tailpipe: "We need to find a better transportation energy platform...one that does not depend on magic liquids bubbling up from the bottom of our oceans and spews the carbon so neatly stored in the ground back into the atmosphere." ®

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