Taxis Show Hybrid Battery Durability

San Francisco taxi drivers are providing solid information about the outer reaches of hybrid battery life. At a recent Ford Motor Company event, Paul Gillespie, San Francisco Taxicab Commission president, said some of his city’s Ford Escape hybrid taxis had passed 300,000 miles of use with no problems. He added that they also found brake life to be three times normal due to the regenerative braking system.

One of the lingering questions about hybrid vehicles is battery life. The batteries that pump up hybrid efficiency are expensive and can’t last forever—but how long will they last? In California and the four other states that follow its strict emissions regimens, hybrid batteries are warranted for 10 years or 150,000 miles, which is presumed to be the life of the vehicle. The other 45 states have an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty. But many folks drive their vehicles well beyond those limits.

“Only two of our 182 hybrid battery packs have had to be replaced during the years hybrids have been a part of the city’s taxi fleets,” Gillespie said. “One was replaced under warranty and the other was driver error.” The taxis in the city average 90,000 miles a year.

Years of Service and Savings for Hybrid Taxis

San Francisco’s first hybrid taxi was a Toyota Prius that went into operation in 2003. The first fleet of hybrid taxis anywhere in America hit the streets of San Francisco in November 2004, with fifteen Ford Escape hybrids operated by Yellow and Luxor cabs. The city also has Camry hybrids in its hybrid fleets. In Vancouver, British Columbia, a city teeming with Prius taxis, Andrew Grant started using a Prius as a taxi in 2001—and rolled up more than 300,000 miles without battery problems.

Gillespie said hybrids are popular with drivers due to the “tremendous savings” in fuel costs, which the city estimates at $9,000 a year compared to a gasoline Ford Crown Vic, the traditional vehicle used in cabs. In addition to fuel savings, the city also has a subsidy that is only available to hybrid cabs. Gillespie added that cab company managers, for the most part, have been open minded, waiting to see how the vehicles hold up to the grueling conditions of a San Francisco taxi.

With more than three years of operation under their belt, hybrids are now considered a proven alternative for cab companies. Their experience in San Francisco also points out that ordinary consumers should not have to replace their hybrid battery during the life of the vehicle.

Reluctance to Switch to Hybrid Taxis in New York City

However, the experiences of cabbies in San Francisco will probably not quell all concerns about battery longevity and hybrid safety—at least for use in taxis. New York City’s Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT) appears to be engaged in an ongoing publicity campaign to show that Ford Escape Hybrids should not be used in taxis. Last month, the MTBOT issued a 43-report outlining a number of safety concerns, including bulletproof partitions interfering with airbags. (In San Francisco, in-car cameras are used as a theft deterrent.)

Last week, the MBOT issued another report—this time claiming that Escape Hybrids are prone to rollover. These reports—and the MTBOT’s lawsuit against the city to block a mandate requiring all new cabs to obtain a city mileage rating of 25 miles per gallon, essentially requiring widespread use of hybrid taxis—can be viewed as a strategy for taxi owners to avoid taking on the added upfront expense of purchasing a hybrid.

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  • Shines

    Good for NiMh battery hybrids!
    New York’s MTBOT needs to get a grip and face reality.

  • TD

    Wonder what the driver error was? Jumper cables?

  • Bryce

    Probably got smashed by one of those cranes falling down all the time.

  • langjie

    my guess is driving down the car until it ran out of gas and completely out of battery

  • RGG

    It’s worth noting that the batteries are holding up well in Vancouver, which has a colder climate that San Fransisco. I would like to know how well they are holding up in the sub-zero winters of Fargo or Edmonton.

  • Stinky McStinky

    A prankster turned on his wipers, radio full blast, hazard lights, headlights, air conditioning full blast, and rigged his horn… so that when he turned his car on everything went on at once and it shorted the entire system out…or so that what I heard…

  • Dan L

    In NYC, cab companies own the cabs and drivers pay for the gas. (It may be the same elsewhere. I don’t know.) As a result, cab companies like the vehicles with the lowest sticker price and drivers like the vehicles with the highest mileage. I wouldn’t trust either to be unbiased about hybrids.

  • joy

    it’s much better for taxi drivers to use hybrid taxis, i bet taxi fares will be much cheaper… 😀

  • Ex Cabbie

    There are many Hybrid Camrys cabs running in Toronto. We should know better in couple of years how well the batteries will endure the cab usage + colder Ontario climate. So far I hear only positive things and know of many people that are switching to Hybrid Camrys.

  • Shines

    As a QA test person I would expect that 2 of the basic tests done on any car, including a hybrid would be:
    1) run the vehicle all the way out of gas and power and expect that after adding fuel and recharging the battery the vehicle would work fine.
    2) Turning on all electric and mechanical components before starting the car would not hurt it.
    If either of these was really the case we would hear much more news about it.
    I am more likely to believe improper jumper cable use or some type of physical damage was the cause of problems.

  • Need2Change

    I fear the cost of buying a new battery. The Chevy Volt’s battery may cost over $10K. The Prius battery costs just under $5K. May need to trash the car after the battery goes bad.

    Still, all evidence shows that these batteries are lasting well past 10 years. Great.

  • Maine Taxi Company

    I own a taxi company in Maine and we switched to the Toyota Prius Hybrids last year. We put them on the road in August 2007 and we now have about 100,000 miles on them without any major problems. The cars ride great, have plenty of power, and have saved us a lot in fuel savings. We have been able to keep our prices low even when gas prices hit nearly $4.00 a gallon. Customers seem to love them as well.

  • Ambro

    What type of gas mileage are you getting? I want an Escape hybrid as a delivery vehicle and was told that under 35 mph, the battery is used. Over 35 mph the motor turns on. I live in a small town and 90% of the driving would be under 35mpg. Am I correct in thinking that I may get 50, 60, 70 mpg or maybe even better?

  • Chris H.

    As the owner of a 2008 Escape hybrid, I can tell you that this is not the case and that full accessory load will not cause the system to fail. The operator error had to be something outside the system’s design (like improper jumper cable usage others have mentioned).

    On a 50%/50% highway/city driving pattern, over 16 months and 32,000 miles, my wife and I have gotten an average of 32MPG using E10 gasoline. On the rare occasions we get non-Ethanol mixed gasoline we see tanks (450+miles) in the high 30’s.

  • Spike

    I don’t know about the Volt price, but the Prius battery is not $5k it is more like $2.5k.

  • howard

    i wonder how long your taxi company will stay
    in business driving Toyota’s Prius.
    I dont want to ride in one.

  • hybrid_fan

    For those interested in the numbers, here’s some information on origins of the first hybrid taxis, which happened in Vancouver and Victoria British Columbia back in 1999 and 2001 respectively, and the expansion in the numbers of hybrid taxis since that time:

  • craigbennett

    You Can get a used battery on ebay for around $500. I would think if there was a high demand (high failure rate) They would be getting more for them.

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