There are quite a few taxi operators testing out electric cars by adding Nissan Leaf EVs to their fleets – whether that be New York (pictured), Hong Kong or Mexico City. It's a channel for the global automaker to sell more of the cars and give more people their own experience of being transported in a Leaf. But there can be a downside.

The experiment hasn't gone well in Osaka, Japan, where many cab owners and drivers can't wait to drive a non-Leaf taxi. In February 2011, the city made a deal with Nissan and 30 taxi firms to bring in 50 Nissan Leaf taxis. The Leafs were subsidized with incentives from the city and the national government that brought the price down to 1,780,000 yen (about $21,000 US) for the taxi firms.

Taxi drivers liked the Leafs at first. One taxi driver loved the Leaf and told Japan Today: "There's no vibration or knocks from the engine. They just glide smoothly. The electric power is far cheaper than outlays for gasoline, and there are few mechanical failures. Eventually we're certain that EV taxis will become the most common type on the road."

The driver's prediction was way off the mark. The Leafs are being utilized only about half as much as regular taxis in Osaka. The problem started right after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown, right after the Leafs were delivered to the taxi fleets. Electricity had been an appealing alternative to gasoline for taxis as a clean, safe, and non-polluting source of energy. The positive image faded as electricity became scarce and the source of the power was called into question.

The cars themselves became another problem for taxi drivers – more specifically, the battery pack performance declined. "When the cars were new, you could drive about 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) on a full charge; but after two years of use, their maximum range is down to about one half of that. So you have to refuse passengers who request long trips," a taxi driver said.

On cold days, some taxi drivers even shun the heater and offer passengers chemical pocket warmers and blankets.

Charging has brought another wall to climb. Taxi drivers had been able to charge in about 15 minutes, but, recently, it has been taking 40 minutes or more. There are only eight charging stations in Osaka, and driving around to find them takes time out of finding potential rides. The problem gets worse on cold-weather days, when using the heater consumers more electricity – some drivers even shun the heater and offer passengers chemical pocket warmers and blankets. It's become a money-losing proposition for taxi drivers and owners.

What makes matters worse is that the government subsidy was a three-year program, and there's one more year left before the taxi operators can bring in a more practical car. "I'm getting out of this business," one of the Osaka cabbies said. "This is no way to earn a living."


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 90 Comments
      Ryan
      • 1 Year Ago
      They would work well in Las Vegas where the most people are going to go to specific hotels from the airport and aren't that great of a distance. Plus lots and lots of land available outside of town and on roofs for solar panels.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ryan
        Well . . . that Vegas heat may cause the Arizona Leaf problems.
        Pandabear
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ryan
        AC will kill the mileage just like extreme cold.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      Yeah, I didn't think electric taxis would work well. You could do it with swappable batteries but with permanent batteries that are relatively small, lose range over time, and lose range in the cold, you are just going to end up in a bad situation after a few years and in cold weather. I also suspect that fast-charging the batteries a lot caused the batteries to deteriorate much faster than if they had been slow charged overnight.
        GR
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Electric taxis can work but only in specific environments, namely, warm islands. The Leaf can be successful in a place like Hawaii, but probably not so much in a cold climate like Osaka, Japan.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Who knows if it's fast charging or just plain cycle life that's doing the battery in early, but i suspect the latter considering the type of cells they are using.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Yep . . . true. This article only tells us how old the cars are but not how many miles they have on them. I'd be very curious to know how many miles are on these Taxis that are now having problems. 30K? 60K? If they are out driving all day, I assume the mileage is much higher than a normal driver.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Yeah, a different battery chemistry may have helped. One that is specifically designed to handle lots of fast-charging w/o harming the battery.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        They can actually work well with the right battery chemistry. Toshiba's SCIB, which can take charges very fast, and last 10,000's of cycles would be suitable for this application. Or A123's multi thousand cycle lifepo4 would be good. If you want to run a taxi service, you have to consider what car will be the most economical. In this case, the batteries may not be economical for this kind of duty. I believe they are using the first model year(s) of Nissan Leaf as well if they're experiencing problems with battery range in the middle of winter. Remember that these cars did not have battery warmers.
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Wrong batteries. The lithium iron phosphate in the BYD taxis deteriorates much slower, and they have bigger packs to start with. I don't know what it is going to take for the fan-boys around here to admit that Nissan/Renault have made a monumental mess of their batteries and cooling system, or lack thereof.
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      Pack wear is also slowing charge rates as internal impedance goes up. I guess I should have expected that. But I'd be rather upset.
      brotherkenny4
      • 1 Year Ago
      The question that would be good to hear is whether there is a cost savings or not. All the other stuff is just whining by people who want to do what they have always done because they have always done it that way. They are charging multiple times a day at fast rates?
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @brotherkenny4
        They have to turn down long trips. They have to spend lots of time looking for chargers, and getting charged. Customers are cold. This experiment doesn't seem to be working out in the Leaf's favor. -- The question that would be good to hear is whether there is a cost savings or not. Answer: "It's become a money-losing proposition for taxi drivers and owners."
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          Even Nissan wasn't really sure how the Leafs would hold up - hence the experiment to gather data in real-world (ie taxi) usage.
          2 wheeled menace
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          It's also a losing proposition for the Japanese taxpayer too. But hey, look on the bright side! if you hate electric cars for whatever reason, this is a perfect way to tell hundreds of people that they're no good!
          Ray Blackburn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          What did they expect, magic? Nissan stated the battery life goes down the more you fast charge.
      Sasparilla Fizz
      • 1 Year Ago
      Cabs here in the U.S. without pulling double shifts would often average about 1000 miles a week, which would be ~50k a year. So two years (100k miles?) and almost continuous fast charges + throw in cold weather and the Leaf has 1/2 its range (~35 miles?)...yikes. Obviously the Leaf's battery pack chemistry is not good for lots of cycles (let alone fast charging cycles) while there are chemistries that are much better. But what a blunder for a demonstration project - my conspiratorial mind would love to think this was arranged by big oil, but it was probably just overly enthusiastic executives eager to show off their non fossil fuel car. Nissan has really set themselves up with a tough row to hoe for their EV future (with the battery performance in the Leaf). Sometimes you really have to wonder if the Nissan Execs had any clue to the drawbacks and deficiencies of their pack chemistry and design choices (no TMS for the batts etc.).
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Sasparilla Fizz
        If they are at 100K miles then it seems cars did reasonably well. They obviously have diminished storage capacity but they are still useful as short-range drivers. And perhaps they could take them into a shop, test all the cells, replace the weakest cells, and get them back out there with a bit more capacity? Or perhaps they should just take the packs out, use the old packs for static grid storage, and put in completely fresh packs. Again . . . it would be very interesting to get more data about this.
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Well it certainly isn't a great situation. But they are expected to be down 70% after 100K miles. And they may seem down more than that in cold weather (which may get better in warmer weather). And since these were used as cabs such that they were fast charged often . . . I could see that hurting them even more. So I certainly would not be happy with it . . . but if the cars made it to 100K miles as cabs, I think that is better than having to replace the batteries at 50K miles as many believed would be required. But again, we are just speculating . . . we need some solid data. The situation may be better or worse than we think.
          jkirkebo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          If that's 50% at 100k miles after daily multiple fast charges and always charging to 100% when slow charging, then that's quite ok in my book. Performance of batteries that is fast charged maybe once per week and is usually only slow charged to 80% should be much better.
          Sasparilla Fizz
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Really Spec? 1/2 the capacity at 100k is reasonably well? (I'm not saying that sarcastically, I actually don't have a good feel for what the drop off should be, but yikes it sounds horrendous).
      Tysto
      • 1 Year Ago
      Oh no! If only there was a cheaper EV with longer range available... like the next generation Leaf... Oh yeah. This is BS anyway. The Green Car Reports article clearly says that only "some" drivers have lost half their range. Yeah, the worst ones. Shall we judge ICE taxis by the ones that are worst maintained?
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is a broder article. The full charge time of a Leaf is never 15 minutes so that is what we call a lie. The heating is exactly the same. If the driver didn't use the heating he's a fool. Of the Broder kind. Ironically there was an article about a Leaf taxi experiment in Denmark a couple of days ago. The results there were quite a bit different. They liked the car a lot, charged twice a day which took 40 minutes. They didn't like the charge times. They also didn't like that they had to turn down long trips (although I think that's bullshit as they could simply call in their other taxis for that). They said the range was 144km and that after 70000km the range had not dimished. There was no mention of any heating issues.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Sorry I meant to give your comment a +1 only I clicked the wrong one by accident !
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      Meanwhile, Hyundai has initiated their FCV assembly-line production. https://www.automotiveworld.com/news-releases/hyundai-celebrates-worlds-first-assembly-line-production-of-zero-emissions-fuel-cell-vehicles/
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        Great. How much do they cost?
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          So more than twice the cost of an unsubsidized Chevy Volt. Good luck with that.
          DaveMart
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          London taxis travel around 120 miles a day on average: http://www.caradvice.com.au/185077/nissan-nv200-crashing-london-black-cab-scene/ Unless the battery is charged several times a day the Volt EV range is not going to help a lot with that, importantly to keep emissions down which is vital in cities. That is why taxis are an early market target for fuel cell vehicles. Since they would recharge at base the low level of hydrogen infrastructure is not a great issue for them. Their performance envelope is ideal for taxis. But of course according to you the price of batteries will drop like a stone and performance increase whilst the present high cost of fuel cells can never be reduced, although their massive cost reduction history and performance increases would indicate otherwise.
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          "But of course according to you the price of batteries will drop like a stone" Are you referring to me? If so, you are dead wrong. I've been quite skeptical about significant battery cost drops. I hope they occur but I think we'll likely only get incremental improvements. I challenge you to find a quote of mine where I say that battery prices will "drop like a stone". You'll find far more quotes of me being skeptical of large price drops.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Not cheap. These are still low production halo cars, and most are going to government fleet use for further testing of infrastructure development plans. The big news is the fact that Hyundai has an assembly-line set up, and is moving away from hand-built prototypes. " Media reports out of the Paris auto show peg the initial price of the ix35 Fuel Cell at around $88,000." http://www.edmunds.com/auto-shows/paris/2012/hyundai-ix35-fuel-cell-2012-paris-auto-show.html
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          GDMit so much, ABG. I waited nearly 20 min for that first post, and then I figured it was real and truly lost. So I resubmit, and...
        John Hansen
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        I hope fuel cells are only used to extend the range of the battery and not as the primary fuel source. One of the nicest things about an electric car is not going to a gas station. Having transitioned from a gas car to an electric car that would feel like a real step backwards. That said, I would be happy to have a fuel cell in my Volt as the range extender instead of the gas engine, once the hydrogen infrastructure was built out.
        Ray Blackburn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        Not only are the fuel cell components not massed produce but the big three semi American manufacturers won't mass produce EV components as well. Not on the scale of Nissan/Renault, or the ICE.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Ray Blackburn
          Which is why an announcement from Hyundai that they have started a production-line for FCVs is big news. Mercedes is also building a FC stack plant (in Canada), so they're getting into mass-production mode as well.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Who killed the electric car again...?
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        Back in the late 1990's? Cheap gasoline and not-good-enough batteries did. (I like that movie but timing just wasn't right. If you look at inflation adjusted gasoline prices, those cars came out right at the nadir of gasoline prices. Worst possible timing ever.)
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Agreed. Oddly though, Paine exonerates batteries in the movie. That was a mistake. Batteries right now are still holding EVs back, to say they weren't a problem in the late 90s is absurd.
      • 1 Year Ago
      The key statement here is: "When the cars were new, you could drive about 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) on a full charge; but after two years of use, their maximum range is down to about one half of that." Shouldn't the batteries be replaced under warranty? If I buy a leaf and drive it a lot, can I expect the battery to lose 50% capacity in two years!?
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        The warranty is for defective workmanship, not for loss of capacity if you charge a lot.
          DaveMart
          • 1 Year Ago
          @DaveMart
          @Electron: If you are going to offer corrections to other's posts, at least make them half way accurate. There is no blanket 5 year capacity guarantee on the battery pack, which would be the only thing that makes sense of your post. There are all sorts of mileage limits, and provisions not only against fast charging all the time, which these cars clearly have to, but even against regularly charging to 100% capacity. In view of those several restrictions all of which are clearly exceeded, I simply posted that the effective warranty would be against defective workmanship, which is near enough for the purposes of this discussion.
          Electron
          • 1 Year Ago
          @DaveMart
          Actually 70% residual capacity is warranted for the first 5 years now. I doubt professional users qualify for that warranty though.
          Electron
          • 1 Year Ago
          @DaveMart
          ...meaning defective workmanship wouldn't be covered either.
          Electron
          • 1 Year Ago
          @DaveMart
          @ DaveMart: In view of the fact that professional users are no doubt excluded anyway the discussion about what the warranty would or wouldn't entail is pretty pointless.
          DaveMart
          • 1 Year Ago
          @DaveMart
          @Electron: Exactly.
        JakeY
        • 1 Year Ago
        You have to look at miles too. They fast charge about 6-7 days, and assuming the 35 miles they travel today on a charge, that's 245 miles a day or about 80k miles a year. By the 2nd year, that's 160k miles. The car's likely well past warranty (eight years or 100,000 miles which ever comes first in the US, likely shorter elsewhere). They have a separate 5 years or 60k miles warranty (whichever comes first) for battery capacity (70%).
        Ernie Dunbar
        • 1 Year Ago
        "Hi, I'd like to replace this battery under warranty because I tortured it to death". Uh, no? If, on the other hand, Nissan was doing this as a testbed program, or if they were doing it for advertising, then yes, they should pony up the yen to keep the cars going. Now that this story has broken, they might just do that.
        JakeY
        • 1 Year Ago
        You have to look at miles too. They fast charge about 6-7 days, and assuming the 35 miles they travel today on a charge, that's 245 miles a day or about 80k miles a year. The car's likely well past warranty.
        JakeY
        • 1 Year Ago
        You have to look at miles too. They fast charge about 6-7 days, and assuming the 35 miles they travel today on a charge, that's 245 miles a day or about 80k miles a year. The car's likely well past warranty (eight years or 100,000 miles which ever comes first in the US, likely shorter elsewhere). They have a separate 5 years or 60k miles warranty (whichever comes first) for battery capacity (70%). If you drive 80k miles a year then by year two (160k miles) you can expect it to be down by that much, esp. if you charge exclusively on quick chargers multiple times per day.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        If they are constantly fast-charging them I suspect that accelerates the decreasing capacity. I've always been a bit wary of fast-charging. Maybe if you have a great battery chemistry for it. But it should probably be avoided except when necessary.
          Sasparilla Fizz
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Yeah, it said the Cabbie's were initially charging in 15 minutes so it certainly sounds like fast charging. The Leaf is just not made for this at all. Wow, 50% range after 2 years, I wonder what the mileage is on them at that point?
      Electron
      • 1 Year Ago
      Nissan should do a cabbie version of the Leaf. Out with the standard consumer grade battery , in with the Toshiba SCiB battery. The rugged lithium titanate chemistry should be able to handle the endless fastcharging without significant capacity loss. Upfront cost of the car would be substantially higher but cost per mile a lot lower. The elements to make a successful EV cab are really there, they just need to be combined.
        chanonissan
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Electron
        why do you think they have to get Toshiba battery, they can build their own 10, 000 cycle battery, they have capable engineering just like toshiba.
          Electron
          • 1 Year Ago
          @chanonissan
          Of course they could. In fact while they are at it they could make it a 500 miles battery that could berecharged in 5 minutes and solve all our problems.
      noevfud
      • 1 Year Ago
      Clearly the pack are aging faster form the many QC charges in the summer and likely over 80% which really ramps up the heat. If this were not the case the packs would do much better but they are likely heating the crap out of them. The car was not intended to do multiply QCs a day and the new heat pump would help with the heat issue. Regardless this is a poor application for this vehicle as it was not intended to be used this way. The LEAF is a very good EV for the right application and environment.
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