5 reasons to be proud of the London Electric Taxi
Shahzad Sheikh – AKA Brown Car Guy – is an automotive journalist with three decades of experience on titles including the Middle East edition of CAR Magazine and Used Car Buyer.
When I imagine a London Black Cab I still think of the iconic Austin FX4/Fairway which had an epic run from 1968 to 1997.
It was replaced by the modernised but bloated TX with conventionally hinged rear doors, a too tall glasshouse, droopy nose and fat butt. It was, or rather is (it still constitutes most of the 23,000 black cabs in London) a bit of caricature of the classic.
But today we have ULEV. So puttering around the world's greatest capital city at a congested 8-10mph belching out diesel pollution just won't do.
Fortunately its maker, The London Taxi Company, went into liquidation in 2013. I say fortunately because Geely of China bought it and injected, to date, around half a billion pounds in turning things around for the renamed London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC).
That includes a brand new factory and an all-new TX5 in 2017 catapulting the traditional taxi into the future.
Here's five reasons we're rather proud of the new London Taxi.
1. It's an EV, even though it ain't really
Lurking under that bonnet is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine. Yet there are two different types of charging sockets either side of the traditional grille, a 31kW battery pack under the driver's cabin and this TX is described is a 'zero-emissions capable' vehicle.
That's because a 110kW (150bhp) motor drives the rear wheels and it has a EV range of up to 70miles on a full charge. London taxis typically do between 80-120miles per day; with 80% recharge available in 30 minutes on a fast charger they should be able to get by using no fuel and contributing zero pollution.
The engine is simply a generator that eliminates range-anxiety by charging the battery only if needed. Use it and this plug-in electric range-extender hybrid still has a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of a staggering 313.9mpg and CO2 emissions are just 20g/km.
2. It's the best built Taxi ever, because it's almost a Volvo!
The factory is immaculate and capacious. The monocoque (previously body-on-frame) bodies are transported around on automated pallets and there are robots at work not helping with the build, but conducting ongoing testing like repeatedly slamming the rear doors.
Talking of testing, in development these taxis did a million miles in places as far flung as Arizona and the Arctic. The petrol engine is a Volvo-sourced unit, but unlike previous hand-me-down powerplants, did not see action anywhere else until it appeared on a new entry-level XC40 late last year.
The steering wheel, key fob, switchgear, instrumentation, is recognisably Volvo. The seats, wheels and some other bits are also sourced from the sister Swedish company (also owned and revitalised by Geely). You can feel the influence not only in the clever design touches but the quality of construction.
3. It's a kinda, sorta like an Electric Rolls-Royce
Well it's got the suicide rear doors (better for instructing the driver and jumping into the cab) and the bold external door-handle graphic apes the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Three people can stretch their legs on the rear bench and six can fit with ease, with three fold down seats staggered to offer increasingly levels of legroom.
The driver sits high and at 2230kg it's a hefty machine, although its footprint is only a little more than its predecessor. Thanks to twin-axis steer it manages the same famous tight turning circle. And whilst it's limited to 80mph and does 0-62mph in an unimpressive 13.2 seconds, at the wheel it feels astonishingly brisk with good initial acceleration.
4. The trad Hackney is so Woke
The fold down seat nearest the pavement actually swivels around to aid passengers with limited movement. There's a ramp under the floor for wheelchairs, braille on the controls, a filter that can shut the vents if it detects too-high levels of external pollution, a panoramic sunroof to combat claustrophobia and charging sockets everywhere.
The driver gets parking sensors, autonomous braking, lane-keep assist, stability control and even reversing cameras and sat-nav depending on spec. Prices range from £57-60k and as most are bought on finance or pay-as-you-drive schemes, most owner-operators go for the top spec.
5. It could be our Brexit-Busting Automotive Export of the future
Big cities around the world are choking from the fumes of their own prosperity. Diesel-chugging buses, taxis and vans are usually the main culprits. The LEVC factory (Britain's first dedicated EV factory) has a capacity of 20,000 vehicles a year and LEVC has just launched a new van version of the Taxi. It's set to ramp up production dramatically with 50 per cent earmarked for export.
Already 225 taxis were supplied to Netherland's largest taxi operator RMC, there are LEVCs picking up fares in Germany and Norway, and there's been interest from places like the United Arab Emirates. As traditional car manufacturing in the UK is battered by Brexit, the diesel backlash and restricted access to China, here's a Chinese-owned British company that appears to have the right product at the right time and all to play for.
A bright future for the humble London black cab - who would've thought, eh?