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Taxi Times International - March 2015 - English

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GUEST COMMENTARY

GUEST COMMENTARY COMPETITION Future-look: the first mass-produces hydrogen-powered vehicle “Mirai” CHRISTOPH M. SCHWARZER … works and lives in Hamburg as a freelance journalist. He is a specialist in the energy transition in the automotive industry. »Highly paid lobbyists work for Uber – in Washington alone one hundred« ELECTRIC UNLIMITED INVESTORS BET ON THE BATTERED BOXER A Japanese automaker has introduced the first mass-produced hydrogen-powered vehicle. Our guest commentator proposes that the first models be used right away as taxis. From Madrid to Rio, from Seoul to Portland. Widespread bans on Uber have pervaded the past few weeks. Investors are not impressed – quite the contrary. Mirai is Japanese for ‘future’. This is the name Toyota gave its hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle. Company president Akio Toyoda personally handed over the first car to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January. The U.S. and Europe are following the domestic market; initially only a few hundred cars will be produced annually. It would be disastrous if this innovative marvel of mobility were only to be experienced by influential people in high positions. The ideal way for the general public to get to know the Mirai would be to put it use as a taxi. Fuel cell vehicles are the ultimate electric cars. Rather than patiently charging an overweight and outsized battery with electricity for hours, the Mirai generates it on board. Electric power from hydrogen and the surrounding air is used to fuel the 113 kW (154 HP) engine. The tanks are filled in three minutes. Then the car can drive over 500 kilometres, taking drivers and passengers silently and comfortably through the streets. It is purely speculative, but it would make sense for Toyota to provide some of the newly manufactured Mirais for use as taxis throughout Los Angeles, California, or Hamburg, Germany, or London, UK. The Japanese have understood that, in order to sell the cars in a given country, the infrastructure must be in place. It would work without hydrogen filling stations. These are often sponsored and constructed by state institutions. For example, the NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization) in Japan and the National Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) in Germany have done so successfully. The advantages of the technology are obvious. Fuel cell-powered electric vehicles have no limitations and are therefore superior to battery-powered vehicles. Taxi drivers would not have to calculate whether they can complete a requested route. The feeling of being tied to a cable is now in the past. So is having to calculate reduced ranges in winter. Fuel cell cars are completely flexible and practical. Toyota intends to convince customers with yet another benefit for which the Prius model is known a million times over: reliability. Many of the Mirai’s parts are identical to those of the Prius. In simple terms, the combustion engine has been replaced by the fuel cell stack and the gasoline by the pressurised gas tank. The aim of this is to keep the costs affordable, since the manufacturer cannot yet achieve economies of scale while the vehicle is still being produced in small quantities. The price varies regionally, ranging from US,000 to €78,000. Whether the hydrogen-powered fuel cell car Mirai can assert itself in the competition against battery-powered cars remains to be seen. What is clear is that it would be suitable for everyday taxi use as the perfect combination of permanent availability and low cost. The chances are good that this will happen. It is also clear that competing vehicle technologies tend to reinvigorate business. And this is urgently needed in a local market that has often been overly stagnant. The Mercedes diesel engine models, the hybrid engine Toyota and the electric battery-powered Nissan will soon be competing against a fourth concept: the fuel cell car. May the best car win. • cms PHOTOS: Toyota, Schwarzer ILLUSTRATION: Löffler With its service UberPOP, Uber seems to be in a boxing match and taking a massive pounding at every round. A ban here, an indictment there, a data scandal here, a rape there. Uber is getting the count on every round, and it’s working its way up to ten. Even so, the bets on the company increase every time the gong is struck. Investment companies are putting more money behind Uber. The company now has a value of billion (see the comparison on page 25). Filthy rich, but illegal. The American company is being shown its limits, especially with its UberPOP service. Governments and courts in more and more countries are pronouncing unequivocal bans. UberPOP has been illegal in Rio de Janeiro since December; in Europe, the service was banned in the Netherlands and Spain, and as of the new year in France. In Asia, Uber has been banned in India, South Korea and Thailand. China followed suit at the beginning of January. The Ministry of Transportation banned several ride-sharing apps used to contact private drivers without taxi licences. Even in Uber’s country of origin, the group and its domestic competitor Lyft have each had to retreat. Operations were banned by the State of Nevada on 26 November, and operations were suspended in Portland, Oregon on 21 December. In many other regions, the Uber management was not deterred. With the help of billions of dollars from investment bankers who continue to support the company in spite of negative headlines (in India, for example, an Uber driver was reported to have raped a woman), Travis Kalanick and his employees pay the fines that are due or hire expensive lawyers to appeal such decisions in court. Highly paid lobbyists also work for Uber. In Washington alone there are said to be 100 lobbyists who are in close contact with local politicians. But even these measures fail in many places. In Germany, the objection by an administrative court in Hamburg to the UberPOP ban was dismissed by the highest court authority back in November. In order to keep the service afloat, Uber is now offering rides at dumping prices below vehicle costs in Hamburg, Berlin and Düsseldorf, which is legal under German law. The drivers are said to receive payments to make up for the low fares. In Spain, the court pronounced a ban at the beginning of December, yet Uber continued to offer UberPOP. Spain’s Supreme Court pulled the plug on 27 December. The telecommunications services and credit card service providers were then ordered not to provide service to Uber ‘effective immediately’. The company was thereby deprived of the technical foundation of its business idea. A few days later, Spain’s Uber manager Carles Lloret announced the discontinuation of the UberPOP service. This brings us to another boxing match analogy: brought down by a technical knockout. The investors will not be pleased at how this ends. n jh DID YOU KNOW … Taxi Times reports twice a week in its newsletter on all the Uber developments and many other current events from the taxi industry. Register now at www.taxi-times.com.newsletter. 22 TAXI MARCH / 2015 23

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