Wherever electric-vehicle infrastructure company Better Place has planted its flag, withering vaporware accusations have followed. They were natural rejoinders to Shai Agassi, the chief executive’s, assured pledge at last fall’s Frankfurt motor show to put 100,000 E.V.’s on the world’s roads by 2016.
Disquieting data concerning the world’s supply of lithium, a critical component of the batteries that would power Better Place’s E.V.’s, cast doubt over the business model’s long-term viability. This week, however, the company delivered its sharpest rebuke yet to skeptics, introducing a fully functional E.V. battery-swap station in the Roppongi Hills section of Tokyo.
Built with the soft, milky aesthetics of a third-generation iPod, the station began servicing a pilot-program fleet of three cabs operated by Tokyo’s largest taxi company, Nihon Kotsu. For three months, cab drivers will stress-test the station’s automated battery-swap equipment, first shown to press last year in Yokohama. Better Place has reported that battery-swap sessions have been clocking in regularly below one minute.
Although its Tokyo station is up and running, the company emphasizes that it is not a finished product. “The final stations will be able to accommodate multiple types of batteries and will have greater storage capacity,” said Kiyotaka Fujii, president of Better Place’s Japan division, indicating that the company’s swap systems will be compatible with batteries from multiple producers.
Better Place’s delivery platform in Tokyo is the Nissan Dualis, a compact S.U.V. marketed in Europe as the Qashqai. Renault-Nissan made a robust commitment to developing E.V.’s compatible with Better Place’s hardware and firmware last year, but the vehicle choice was not born of collaboration with the automaker.
Mr. Fujii said in an e-mail message that the Dualis “vehicle body is very suitable for the switch to E.V. configuration.” However, he added, choosing the Dualis “was the sole decision of Better Place. It is not relevant to or indicative of any potential E.V. lineup by Nissan.”
The Tokyo trial will last 90 days. Pending a successful conclusion, a production swap station is expected to be rolled out late this year in Israel, where the total Better Place model of charging, battery swapping and electric-utility coordination will be given its first real-world run.