Better Place Targets Tokyo Taxis

betterplace1Electric vehicle infrastructure company Better Place chose Yokohama, Japan, to show off its first — and the world’s first — battery swapping station. Now the startup is planning to work with the Japanese government to build a pilot project in Tokyo that will create the world’s first electric taxi fleet with swappable batteries.

Better Place is partnering with Tokyo’s largest taxi company, Nihon Kotsu, for the pilot and will be building a swappable battery station (like the one in Yokohama) in the Roppongi Hills area in Tokyo. The project is supposed to start in January 2010.

There are a couple reasons why this is an interesting deal for Better Place. First off, Tokyo is often the purveyor of “cool” and advanced technology, and services and products that gain acceptance in Toyko often find their way to other parts of the world. The city has become a good test bed for technology because it’s filled with a lot of people, not much space, a lot of disposable income, and an unusually high level of attention to electronics and gadgets. While the Better Place Tokyo taxi deal will have to impress the taxi owners first, if it’s successful, it could mean a more consumer-targeted push in Tokyo in the future.

The other benefit of this deal is that Better Place gets to test out its system in a fleet. Tokyo taxis will give the Better Place cars, batteries and battery swap stations a run for their money — far more than the average car user would. That will enable Better Place to test the battery range, the IT networks and the location of the battery swap station in a much faster manner.

While I’m still skeptical of Better Place making a major push in large cities and sprawling areas of the U.S., specific deals like this in certain locations give me hope that the idea behind Better Place could have legs.

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