News broke early this week that Better Place, the Silicon Valley car-charging infrastructure upstart, is launching the first tests of its battery-swapping scheme for electric cars, starting with EV taxis in Tokyo.
The backstory is that Better Place struck a deal with Chery Automobile Co., China’s largest independent automaker, to jointly develop switchable-battery EV prototypes with the goal of securing regional Chinese government EV pilot projects. This isn’t very surprising, given that China leads at least one top-10 cleantech list, and given that, as Better Place notes in a press release, “China has set an industrial policy with the objective of becoming the largest EV developer and manufacturer in the world, enabling the country to leapfrog internal combustion engine (ICE) technology and go straight to electric transport.”
The huge numbers of Chinese who are just now starting to purchase their first automobiles should give momentum to the push to develop an EV charging infrastructure in that region of the world, but as I learned during a test-drive of the electric version of Ford’s Transit Connect last month, the EV charging infrastructure here is sorely lacking. Even Ford’s own employees were scrambling to find a way to start charge the van the previous night.
It makes sense the Better Place is testing its battery-swapping scheme with taxis, because, as I’ve mentioned before, fleets of vehicles will be the first EVs we see on the roadways, anywhere in the world. Besides, it’s not like battery-switching stations will be popping up on street corners any time soon–and nor will the numbers of EVs needed to support them, therein lies the chicken and egg problem. But with fleets, the investment in EVs and Better Place’s investment in charging stations can move forward hand in hand.
Of course, Better Place is not the only charging solution for EVs–nor can it be if EVs are to gain a foothold. Silicon Valley’s Coulomb Technology has been busy planting new curbside charging stations and developing iPhone apps designed to help drivers find their nearest charging station.