Icons in Black

Retro look with state-of-the-art technology

Just like Tower Bridge, Big Ben, or the red doubledecker buses, they are the emblem of the British capital: the characteristic black cabs. Locals and tourists use this means of transportation 300,000 times per day to reach their destination through the maze of streets in the vibrant city. The manufacturer is LEVC – a company that produces only taxis, and soon a model with electric drive.

Around 20,000 of the rolling classic cabs are currently driving through the London streets. Not only the current model, the TX4, but also many older versions – an indication of the robust design that characterizes the London taxis. With their striking radiator grille, round headlamps, and tapering snout the black cabs give the impression they are behind the times. This can clearly be seen in the heredity of their famous predecessor – we are speaking about the Austin FX4 which was constructed with the nearly the same look from 1958 to 1997. But this itself is one of the reasons why the traditionally-minded English still love their taxis so much today. Despite the retro look, the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), that operated as the London Taxi Company until July 2017, builds modern technology. It’s no surprise – after all, the latest generation of black cabs was a new product in 2007, and is undergoing constant development.

Nimbler than a Polo

The strength of the concept lies in the details. From the very beginning the vehicle was designed as a taxi, which has manifested itself in many unique design features. One example would be the small turning circle: the black cab needs only about eight meters to turn on the road; which is two meters less than the current VW Polo. 

High comfort

There is room for five people in the separated passenger compartment as standard. Where the front passenger seat would be – of course on the left in the United Kingdom – there is no seat. Passenger baggage is stowed here. The cab is exemplary when it comes to comfort for the elderly and disabled: a seat can be folded out towards the sidewalk when the door is open, and a wheelchair ramp is standard equipment. But LEVC has not only thought about the passengers, but also about the driver. The taxi has a special safety feature: the rear doors cannot be opened when the driver keeps the brake pedal pressed down. So passengers cannot disappear before they have paid.


Zero-emission future

For all of its tradition, LEVC knows the importance of keeping up with the times. The next taxi generation, the TX5, will therefore be electrically powered. On the one hand, LEVC is following the general trend towards sustainability. Additionally, there is also a very special reason for this in London itself: since 2008, nearly the entire city area has been a low emission zone in which very strict conditions for operation of motor vehicles apply today. In 2020, the inner city area, which extends from Victoria Station in the west up to Tower Bridge in the east, will also be designated as an ultra low emission zone with even greater demands on emissions. This will have massive effects on the taxi industry as early as next year: from January 1, 2018 taxis with diesel engines will no longer be licensed. The vehicles must be able to drive for up to 48 kilometers with zero emissions. They may discharge a maximum of 50 grams CO2 per kilometer.

From 2018, taxis with Diesel engines will no longer be licensed

Revolution under the hood

The TX5 fulfils exactly these requirements. The electric motor made by the LEVC sister company Volvo is derived from the T8 Twin Engine that is currently in service in the Volvo XC90. Exact performance details have not yet been announced, but they are good enough to accelerate the TX5 to 130 kph. The lithium-ion battery enables pure electric driving for over 160 kilometers. When the battery reaches its limits a three-cylinder range extender takes over. The range extends to over 640 kilometers with the Volvo 91 hp gasoline engine. Rheinmetall Automotive supplies several components for these vehicles. To learn more about details and technical backgrounds, please see the next issue of Heartbeat.

First pure electric car plant in Europe

The electric car comes from a brand-new factory in Ansty near Coventry that opened in March 2017. The plant is not only the first new car factory in the United Kingdom from some ten years, it is also the first in Europe that builds only electric vehicles. The LEVC parent company, the Chinese Geely Group, has invested over 300 million pounds here in the Midlands. The plant capacity lies at over 20,000 vehicles per year and over 1,000 new jobs were created. The TX5 market launch is planned for late 2017 in the United Kingdom, and 2018 for the rest of the world. But whilst new ground has been broken with the inner workings, the optical changes are moderate. A black cab will remain a black cab, even in the future!

How Do I get the green badge?

Not everyone in London can get one of the sought-after taxi licenses, called the Green Badge. Applicant requirements are among the strictest in the world.

Minimum age: An applicant must be at least 21 years old, although there is no maximum age.

Character:Each applicant mustmdeclare any previous convictions. Suitability as a taxi driver may be ruled out for serious offences. A person who withholds information is barred from the application procedure.

Mental and physical health:The applicant may not suffer from, for example, heart conditions, mental disorders or nervous disorders.

„The Knowledge“: the biggest hurdle is to pass this test. The applicant must prove knowledge of 320 routes in a six-mile radius around Charing Cross. These include around 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks. Most drivers need a preparation time of between two and five years before they can pass this test.