Bright Spark

Bright Spark

London is cleaning up its act. Drivers of older petrol and diesel cars are already getting used to paying the T-Charge emissions fee on top of the Congestion Charge when entering central London, while the entire London bus fleet will adopt zero-emissions technologies by 2037.


Taxis are getting the clean-up treatment as well. London cabs now have to be zero-emissions-capable, a requirement that was introduced at the beginning of 2018, and the last diesel cabs will leave the capitalís roads in 2032, thanks to compulsory retirement after fifteen years. The main job of meeting the clean-air challenge for taxis falls initially to the all-new TX cab from LEVC (London Electric Vehicle Company). The TX can trace its lineage back to the traditional 1958 FX4 cab, while LEVC is the direct successor to the previous London Taxi Company, now bolstered by the support of a new large Chinese parent, Geely, which also controls Volvo Cars and Lotus.


I recently had the chance to drive the TX and came away immensely impressed. The diesel clatter of earlier London cabs is replaced by the smooth, quiet woosh of an electric motor. Acceleration is instant and strong, which I am sure cabbies will appreciate as they try to zip into gaps in traffic to get ahead. And with lower levels of noise and vibration, a day spent behind the wheel of the TX should be far less fatiguing as well. Lower noise levels will also make conversation between driver and passenger a lot easier, despite the fixed Perspex partition ñ perhaps a mixed blessing, depending on whether you prefer just to sit back during a taxi ride, or like me, donít mind a bit of a chat about the weather or the latest absurdities of British politics.


The TX isnít quite all-electric ñ it has a 1.5-litre range extender petrol engine ñ but LEVC says it has a ìreal worldî electric range of about 66 miles, thanks to a fairly hefty 31kWh battery. The TX should be able to stay on battery power for most of a typical working day, especially with a top-up during a lunch or coffee break. The range extender mainly comes into play to accommodate lucrative Heathrow Airport runs, shift changes and transit journeys from driversí homes.


The sophistication of the TXís suspension is light years ahead of that of previous cabs, which used to crash jarringly into potholes, and modern composite panels make for far easier repairability than before, with less down-time meaning fewer lost fares. 


Of course, the TX costs more than the old diesel cabs, but has clear advantages in terms of operating costs. Service intervals, surely some of the longest in the world, are 25,000 miles, because the small range extender engine has such an easy life. The rear brake pads last five to ten times as long as previously, because the regenerative braking provided by the electric powertrain does most of the work. Fuel savings can be £100 per week or more. And while the TX is a new design, it still meets all of the requirements that make a London taxi such a distinctive vehicle, including the tight turning circle and the strict stipulations on wheelchair access.


Not that the TX will necessarily be having things all its own way. A rival vehicle, the Metrocab, is being readied for the market, too. With its range extender electric powertrain, it follows the same general arrangement as the TX, and like LEVCís contender, it is expected to be built in a new factory in Coventry. History is repeating itself here; back in the eighties, the original MCW Metrocab provided competition for the TXís ancestor, the FX4. LEVC has a clear head start, though, with over 500 vehicles already on the road.


Many of the pros and cons of electric vehicles are debatable, but one advantage is inarguable ñ by getting rid of tailpipe emissions, even if thatís just at the expense of shifting them to a power station, they can do a lot to improve local air quality.


And in London, where EU air quality limits are regularly broken, the clean-up canít come soon enough. Owners of older vehicles struggling to make ends meet are bound to feel picked upon as charges are increased and rules tightened up, but I think that far from damaging the economy, the clean-up will boost Londonís future prosperity by making it a much nicer place to live, work and invest in.


David Wilkins 

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