I’m heading for the offices of the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), when I pass a souvenir shop. There, in the window, among Harry and Meghan tea towels, fluffy British bulldogs and Big Ben bookends, are two toy vehicles: a red bus and a black cab. Because few things say ‘London’ quite like its traditional taxi.
One way the black cab has become so iconic, a cynic might suggest, is by failing to move with the times. The motorised Hackney Carriage has only seen three significant updates since the Austin FX3 of 1948. The car I’m here to drive changes all that. Behind that familiar face, London finally has a high-tech taxi it deserves.
Going by the snappy title of LEVC TX eCity, the new cab ditches outdated diesel engines for plug-in tech. It’s cleaner, cheaper to run, safer and more socially acceptable. It’s also much nicer for both passengers and drivers, as I’ll discover. Here’s what you need to know.
It comes from Coventry, via Sweden and China
LEVC is owned by Chinese carmaker, Geely, but the TX is built in the UK – at a new factory in Ansty, near Coventry. A £325 million investment has created 1,000 new jobs, plus capacity to build more than 20,000 taxis per year.
Geely, which recently bought Lotus, is best known for bankrolling the rebirth of Volvo. Since the takeover in 2010, Volvo has launched a new range of award-winning cars and SUVs, plus standalone sub-brand Polestar.
The LEVC TX eCity borrows many parts from its Swedish cousin, including an electric motor from the sporty Polestar 1 (which has two of them).
Plug-in tech has made black cabs green
LEVC refers to the TX as ‘electric’ because its 1.5-litre petrol engine is only used to boost the batteries – not drive the wheels. More accurately, it’s a range-extender hybrid, with plug-in points for both CCS- and Chademo-style chargers either side of the front grille.
The batteries can be topped up to 80% capacity in 25 minutes, and full charge gives an electric-only range of 80 miles – two thirds of the 120 miles a typical cabbie drives in a day.
Quoted fuel economy is 217.3mpg, although that drops to just 36.7mpg with the batteries depleted. Still, the old diesel-powered TX4 managed 33.2mpg at best.
One stumbling block for LEVC is that only 60% of cabbies have off-street parking to charge overnight. For those that do, however, the savings are significant. My driver, Pat, says his TX costs £2.80 to charge and saves £80 a week in fuel – around £4,000 a year – versus his TX4.
It’s much more pleasant for passengers
The plan is for Pat to chauffeur me into central London, then I’ll drive back. Opening the TX’s big, rear-hinged ‘suicide’ door, there are now six seats rather than five, along with appreciably more space. Passengers in wheelchairs can face forwards for the first time: a notable safety gain.
The fabrics and fittings are still very much ‘wipe clean’, but there’s air-conditioning, on-board wi-fi and charging sockets for phones and laptops. A standard-fit panoramic glass sunroof bathes the cabin in light – and offers a great view of London’s loftier landmarks. “Tourists love it,” smiles Pat.
On the move, the TX is smooth and eerily quiet, a calm cocoon amid the bustling streets and a stark contrast to rattling taxis of old. With just me on board, its ride feels on the firm side, although a full complement of six passengers would doubtless dampen it down.
And it’s the “ultimate driving machine” for cabbies
Pat pulls over by Regent’s Park and it’s my turn to take the wheel. If you’ve driven any recent Volvo, the TX’s dashboard will feel instantly familiar. There’s a rebranded version of the Sensus touchscreen media system and even the key is the same.
Squared-off styling and a high, SUV-like driving position make the TX easy to place on the road. It’s astonishingly manoeuvrable, too, mainly thanks to front wheels that swivel 63 degrees (versus 38 degrees in a typical car). Three-point turns are a thing of the past.
The instant torque of the electric motor offers brisk acceleration, even if top speed is a modest 80mph. You can also switch into one of two regenerative braking modes, which use friction to slow the car and charge the batteries – allowing one-pedal driving at city speeds.
The new cab is a great way to travel around London – and not only because you can zip along bus lanes. It’s capable and well suited to its environment. Sadly, the same can’t be said of me, and I rely on Pat’s directions to get us home. Sat nav is optional, but it’s no substitute for three years of learning The Knowledge.
First stop: London, then the world…
LEVC has plans that stretch far beyond the M25. A few weeks ago, a fleet of TXs arrived in Edinburgh and the cab is already carrying passengers in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Oslo.
There’s even talk of the TX being sold in New York – in iconic ‘yellow cab’ livery, no less – now the city’s taxi industry has been deregulated. It sure beats the ‘van with windows’ Nissan NV200.
London will remain LEVC’s biggest market, though, and the TX has already become part of the streetscape here. Shame the souvenir industry hasn’t kept pace; it’s still flogging toy TX4s…