By on April 27, 2010

Move over! A Tokyo taxi.

Forget about the crafty Japanese starving off any attempt of honest American companies to penetrate the Japanese market. A true blue American company, founded by true blue American venture capital, goes right for the heart of Japan: Tokyo’s taxi market.

The darling of venture capital writers at Wired and Red Herring, Palo Alto’s Better Place is fighting the good fight against a market that is the fiefdom of the Toyota Crown: Tokyo’s (usually LPG or CNG powered) taxi market.

On Monday, the company that was founded by former SAP star Shai Agassi, uncovered three electric taxis, along with a million dollar charging station. According to The Nikkei [sub], “the taxis will cruise Tokyo’s streets for three months to test their safety and reliability, and officials said they will then decide whether to continue or expand the program. Mr. Agassi said he hopes other large cities will follow.” Tokyo alone is quite a market: Tokyo has 60,000 taxies, almost five times the number of cabs in New York. The ride must also cost about five times the price of a New York cab. (JFK to downtown Manhatta: $50. NRT to downtown Tokyo: $250 )

To overcome range-, cost-, and recharge-time anxiety, Better Place preaches as a system of switchable batteries. The company owns the batteries, people will pay “for miles like a mobile phone user pays for minutes, at prices still to be determined,” says the Nikkei. Empty batteries can be switched for full ones in 60 seconds, faster than it takes to fill up your car.

Smart devils they are at Better Place: The actual cars on trial are converted Nipponese Nissan Rogue crossovers.

Where there is Nissan, Renault is not far away. They are manufacturing cars for Better Place. Better Place buys lithium-ion batteries from suppliers such as A123 Systems and – will the circle be unbroken – from Automobile Energy Supply Corp., a battery joint venture between Nissan and NEC .

(Speaking of Tokyo: Your BS will go from Beijing to NYC tomorrow, with a stopover in Tokyo. If I have recovered on Thursday, normal reporting will resume.)

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7 Comments on “Better Place Invades Tokyo...”


  • avatar
    bunkie

    It would be nice if we could retire the “ride to the airport” comparison. Narita is very far away from the center of Tokyo, about four times the distance between the center of Manhattan and JFK.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Exactly. Taxi rides within the city are generally quite reasonable — and on top of that you get polite drivers in exquisitely-maintained cars.

      Notably the Prius is now gaining some popularity as a taxi in Tokyo, from the ubiquitous Crown Comfort (pictured above).

  • avatar

    Guys, grant a poor boy a little poetic license. I take Tokyo taxis quite often, especially at night after having been in dubious establishments long after “the last train” and the ride from (well…) Kabukicho to our place in Ota-ku sets me back $75.

    True, very well maintained, very courteous drivers, and they wear white gloves. Don’t close the door after getting out, the driver closes it remotely.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Bertel, your usual articles set the quality bar so high that comments like the $250 taxi ride stand out like a sore thumb. Maybe if your usual article standard wasn’t quite as high …

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Getting to/from Narita is expensive no matter how you go. The local JR train (kakko ekki densha) is the cheapest method but it’s an eternity. The express trains and buses were $40 one way when I was last there in 1995.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    $250 taxi ride? Lapdance included?

  • avatar
    wallstreet

    That photo was taken in Singapore. Most of those Comfort cabs are powered by diesel. Yes, they do smell & vibrate like your grandpa’s diesel.

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