We hop into the new black cab in London
We have got used to hopping into taxis, saying where we want to go before reclining on a bench seat. In many ways that’s not about to change, but a taxi has some specific requirements even designers of SUVs don’t have to worry about.
A taxi can’t ply for trade if it has visible damage for one thing, so the cold-bonded exterior panels on the LEVC TX can be easily replaced. And it has to have a small turning circle, despite the 5m length – a length that can’t be exceeded as it has to fit taxi ranks. The turning circle of 8.535m is only possibly by having front wheels which can turn up to 68deg. Even a quick-turning SUV won’t exceed 38deg.
And then there’s the packaging issue. You have to keep to that length, and you can’t exceed the width of the current TX4 taxi either. Yet you have to fit in six rather than five passengers. You have to be able to accommodate a wheelchair facing forward – a real first for a black cab – plus you have to fit in a 1.3-litre engine, an electric motor, its battery and a generator. Plus some creature comforts, a ramp for the wheelchair and some tech stuff for modern passengers, like USB ports, power points and an on-board wifi hotspot.
Somehow, it’s all gone in, along with more legroom than before, as well as a spacious sense to the cabin brought about partly by the big glass roof. What you won’t find in there is the customary racket and vibration of the old diesel engine. One other requirement of a new cab is that it must be able to run on zero emissions so for about 70 miles or so you can run on the 145bhp electric motor alone.
When that’s done, there’s a 1.3-litre engine to take the range up to 400 miles, more than the old model. It’s really quiet in electric mode, amazing to anyone used to a traditional taxi. The makers wanted ‘intelligibility’ inside, the ability to have a conversation without shouting, and this they have achieved. If you’re shouting, it’s not because of background noise.
For most of us this will be a novel and welcome break from our daily lives but for the drivers it will be their office. The cab has a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, with the battery capable of having at least 75 per cent charge after that time, even after 9000 cycles.
The Chinese company LEVC is owned by the company that runs Volvo, and so the cabin gets a serious upgrade including some safety kit like automatic emergency braking and digital instruments. There’s even sat nav so drivers can check on traffic in real time – they’ll still know where they’re going, this isn’t Uber.
Drivers will probably go for the weekly rental, which is £177 on a finance deal, although you could buy one outright for £55,599 and up. For a vehicle with a two-decade working lifespan that doesn’t sound too bad. Other countries seem to be thinking so, since alongside London these cabs have already been sold to Holland and Germany, and they’ll soon be building some in China for the domestic market.
It’s an icon of London, so it’s good to see the black cab getting the updates it needs to help it run in one of the most iconic of global cities, as well as helping with exports to other cities, well into the 21st century.