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In this three-part series, Sgcarmart explores early EVs that promised much, but then never materialised. In Part 3: A taxi predating ComfortDelgro's BYD e6s.

26 Sep 2022

"Compete! And shape a new future", declares the chirpy, albeit slightly demanding theme of the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show in 2013. 

And the memo was noted. From the all new Honda S660 to the returning Daihatsu Copen (or Kopen), a drop-top Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ prototype to the slippery shapes thrown onto the floors of the exhibition hall by Mitsubishi, Nissan and Yamaha, the competition was palpable, and the future felt like it was near. 

The EVA Taxi still resembles little on our roads today, especially with its panda-like colour scheme
Amidst these international giants towering over the show, a pudgy, rounded vehicle stood in West Hall 4 of the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre, silently waving (half) the Singaporean flag with its black and white paintcoat. But instead of a hypercar with electrifying performance, or the promise of an up and coming mass-market nameplate, it was… a taxi. 

There is a passing resemblance to the LEVC TX London cab from the front, while its rectangular taillights and hatchback-silhouette may call to mind the Hyundai Ioniq 5 if you squint. But in truth, the curious cab - called the EVA Taxi - resembles little on our roads even today, especially with its panda-like colour scheme. 

Electric taxi for the tropics

A bespoke EV: The taxi was the brainchild of leading universities from Germany and Singapore 
The EVA Taxi was built from the ground up not just to be good at ferrying people, but to do so with electric power fully

As with many other bespoke EVs of today, lightweight materials were incorporated into its body to compensate for the heaviness of its batteries. 

Students and staff from two leading engineering universities worked together under a multidisciplinary research platform (that still exists today) named TUM Create to arrive at it. 

The first iteration of the BMW i3 - pre-range extended - had about 150km of real-world range
Techniscishe Universität München, from Germany, provided its know-how in the automotive sector and electromobility. And our very own Nanyang Technological University aided with its "deep expertise in energy technologies", including battery systems, wireless charging and materials science.

A quick glance at the EVA's widely-cited 200km range may not put the taxi in the most positive light today, considering that modern long-distance runners like the Mercedes-Benz EQS will easily eclipse 500km. 

Nonetheless, bear in mind that its 2013 contemporaries included the likes of the first-ever BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf - all of which ran out of juice between 150 to 180km - and the taxi's range-stretching capabilities back then warrant a second look. 

200km of real-world range could be put back into the EVA's batteries by way of a dual-outlet 
Beyond this, however, what truly helped the EVA cling onto headlines was its battery architecture. By way of a dual outlet, a mere 15 minutes was all it took for the taxi to regain 200km of range - rapid even by modern fast-charging standards. 

To put this into perspective, the battery of the recently-launched Opel Mokka-e gets the equivalent of approximately 290km put back into its batteries in 30 minutes.

Even then, one final aspect made the EVA Taxi rather unique to Singapore: It was crafted to be perfect for use in the tropics. This resultant trio of considerations - electric-power (and hence energy-efficiency), passenger-centricity, and the demands of an equatorial climate - is evident in every bit of the EVA Taxi's design if you peer closer.  

The small holes visible on the roof of the EVA Taxi's interior were designed for localised cooling
Ergonomically designed seats were equipped with a purpose-built, suction system to draw moisture and heat away from their surfaces. An individualised overhead air-conditioning system - centered in the principle of localised cooling - also allowed for better thermal comfort without the need for expending excess energy to cool down the whole cabin

Then, there were the usual glitzy bits often found in an EV. In a fittingly prescient manner, the EVA taxi's infotainment system boasted wireless connectivity that allowed passengers to control air-conditioning and audio settings right from their smart phones, as well as pay for their rides.

Losing wind 

It took only two years for the EVA Taxi to be developed into a driveable prototype
Evidence of the sheer amount of effort the team was putting into the vehicle, the EVA Taxi was ready for the road by 2015, going from fibreglass shell to driveable prototype within the span of just two years. The grand unveiling of the latter even included demonstrative drives for the media - ironically, around fellow local university, NUS.

But - alas - the roads encircling University Town were as far as the EVA would venture. An interview a year later with one of the project leaders, Raymond Khoo, revealed that plans to commercialise the vehicle had fallen through, because no takers - among taxi companies or manufacturers - had come forth. 

Despite the EVA Taxi's practicality - including its sizeable boot - it eventually failed to make production
Expectedly, the first and largest hurdle was always the EVA's cost.

The thought of an electric taxi designed expressly for the tropics sounds great - until one realises that bringing any vehicle from lab to road requires a certain degree of scale, which means it would not suffice to limit production and deployment of the EVA to Singapore. 

EVs may be more welcome than ever in Southeast Asia today, but it's worth pointing out that even in Norway - the nation with the highest number of BEVs per capita - plug-in vehicles as a general category didn't reach a 10% market penetration rate until November 2018.

Considering that Europe (the market leader) was nowhere near as ready for the technology back in 2015, it's almost guaranteed that our neighbours, with whom we share the same climate, were unlikely to have welcomed the EVA Taxi with arms wide open too. 

Public chargers are now far easier to find and access than they were in 2015
Secondly, however, was the issue of infrastructure.

Singapore has 3000 public charging stations today. In 2015, there were just 70 across the board islandwide - and it remains unclear how many of those would have been powerful enough to aid the EVA Taxi in its 15-minutes-to-200km claim.

The 'chicken or the egg' dilemma will never be resolved - should charging points precede an increase in EVs, or vice versa? - but it appears there was little incentive to build a network purely for the taxi, six years ago. 

The impossibility of a fully-homegrown EV?

Many years after the EVA's valiant attempt, our roads today are finally filled with electric taxis 
Like the previous two types of EVs we've touched upon (a mass market model and a hypercar respectively), the idea of the electric taxi didn't die. In fact, it carries on stronger than ever today, buoyed by the likes of bright green station wagons and blue mini-MPVs.

But putting the EVA Taxi into the same context as the Dendrobium hypercar concept we previously covered brings similarities to the fore that paint a sobering picture of the carmaking world. Financial might - which ultimately reigns supreme in sending any prototype into the hands of customers (or fleet owners in this case) - is almost always found exclusively among the top global manufacturers. In this regard, it appears that Singapore may never have an EV to truly call its own. 

Nonetheless, these treks back into the past are encouraging in their own right. They prove that Singapore has been a pioneer in its own right from the start, with the vision, brains and talent to - as the Tokyo Motor Show proffered - compete and shape a new future.

Here's Part 1, which explores a Chinese EV that still hasn't debuted in Singapore... 

Singapore's forgotten EVs, Part 1: The Geometry A

And Part 2, which dives into what could have been Singapore's first hypercar...

Singapore's forgotten EVs, Part 2: The Vanda Dendrobium, our first hypercar

And here are a few more stories that may interest you!

Cars we want to see revived before the world goes all-electric

Singapore's outdated COE system needs desperate fixing

Should you care about Formula E?

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evs  electric vehicles  byd e6  mg 5 ev  taxis  taxi,