July 27 - E-taxi drivers in the Chinese city of Hangzhou change their batteries as many as five times a day, highlighting a key challenge for e-vehicles in China. This is part two of a two-part special report. Jane Lee reports.
Hua Yong is charged up and ready for the day. He drives one of 29 electric taxis in Hangzhou, a tourist scene near Shanghai, and today, I'm riding with him to see what it's like to be an e-taxi driver. Hangzhou is one of three cities in China with e-taxis on the road. It's part of China's push to jumpstart its electric car industry. SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) E-TAXI PASSENGER CHEN CHENG SAYING: "The driver says it takes a couple of hours to charge the battery, and if isn't charged in time or the car gets stuck in traffic, it can be a problem." That won't happen with Mr. Hua - he politely drags his passengers to one of the city's battery charging stations when he starts to get nervous. SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) E-TAXI PASSENGER CHEN CHENG SAYING: "This is the first time this has happened." SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) E-TAXI DRIVER HUA YONG SAYING: "It's not a big problem and the passengers are all very understanding." When he first started driving this e-taxi last year, Mr. Hua had to be bailed out twice on the road. The battery company brought him new batteries, now he knows to turn down passengers if he doesn't think he can make it. SOUNDBITE (English) REUTERS CORRESPONDENT JANE LEE SAYING: "Mr. Hua is halfway through his day but already at his third battery change. The change takes less than 10 minutes, but it's the biggest challenge electric taxi drivers face." Those batteries can be pesky in more than one way. In April, an e-taxi battery caught fire. The taxi company suspended service for nearly two months and all the drivers went on paid leave until they improved the battery changing process. They're also fiddly to change. SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) BATTERY STATION WORKER SAYING: "These batteries are heavy." Mr. Hua has been defending the car since and answering the same question from most of the passengers. The taxi can go about 70 kilometers with each charge. There are five battery-changing stations in the city. He pays about $0.80-a-kilometer on electricity, nearly half of what gasoline taxis pay, and that humming sound, it's the battery. Mr. Hua is optimistic and says his company plans to have 200 e-taxis on the road by the end of the year, but his fifth battery change by the end of the day shows gearing up won't be easy. I'm Jane Lee. This is Reuters.