With the demise of Commodore and Falcon, Delivery looks at the alternatives for the TAXI industry.
Ford and Holden have traditionally supplied taxi spec’ models of the Falcon and Commodore for all of Australia’s capital cities. In recent years Toyota has added a few Camrys, both in petrol and hybrid form, and there has been a fair effort to place the Prius on the Aussie cab rank.
Over in Europe, or more particularly in the United Kingdom, the typical London black taxi has been the subject of various design exercises by Japanese manufacturers. At first sight it might seem a relatively small market, but over in the US there is also a requirement for a specific, purpose-built taxi, hence the interest from Japan and the flurry of activity currently taking place.
The traditional black London taxi has a wealth of history with a great variety of different companies involved in taxi design. From an early design brief that demanded an occupant in the rear seat be able to wear a top hat, there were also unusual requirements carried over from the horse drawn taxi that required space for a bale of hay to be carried to feed the horse. The advent of the internal combustion engine happened before the requirement to carry the bale of hay was discontinued.
While on the subject of taxi history, the name itself comes from an abbreviation of taximeter, and the German word “Taxe” meaning a charge or levy. The term “Cab” is an abbreviation of cabriolet, originally a light two-wheeled carriage pulled by a single horse. It later became known as a description for a convertible car.
Today we are seeing a downsizing of engines and compact bodywork, but that is really nothing new for taxi operators. Between 1907 and 1910, Adams of Bedford produced taxicabs with two or four-cylinder engines. In 1906, Agylle produced a cab-over taxi design just 3.04 metres in length. Initially powered by a 12/14 hp engine, in 1910 it got an increase in power with the adoption of a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder.
After World War II, taxi development was handled by Austin in co-operation with the coachbuilders Carbodies of Coventry, and London taxi dealers Mann and Overton. This collaboration gave rise to the FX model, which continued through various redesigns while retaining the FX nomenclature through to the FX5 in 1979.
The general appearance of the black taxi looks remarkably unchanged, from a distance. What has altered, though, is the creation of a global market for a common design, taking the black taxi concept to a new generation of commuters worldwide.
The Tokyo Motor Show held last November enabled Toyota to showcase its JPN Taxi Concept.
The vehicle’s proportions and packaging have been tailored to give it the manoeuvrability that’s essential in urban traffic, and to make access easy for passengers, especially children and older people, with a high cabin, low floor and electric sliding door. It also comes with a new powertrain, an LPG hybrid system that offers better environmental performance around town.
The cab seats five and is equipped with a large interior monitor showing passenger information including the route to the destination and the fare.
But, it’s not just Toyota that has its sights set on creating a vehicle to carry a yellow “For Hire” sign.
To get the right “feel” and end result, Nissan completed the design of its solution for a global taxi in London, at Nissan’s European design centre in Paddington.
Based on the company’s successful multi-purpose NV200 platform, Nissan has redesigned the vehicle to better reflect the iconic nature of the traditional black cab.
Nissan Design Europe (NDE) in Paddington is the same design centre responsible for the Qashqai and Juke. The new taxi will be launched in December 2014 with a modern, clean, 1.6-litre petrol engine equipped with an automatic gearbox. Furthermore, Nissan will launch a zero-emission electric version of the NV200 taxi in 2015.
The NV200 cab for London is part of Nissan’s global taxi programme, which also encompasses New York, Barcelona and Tokyo. The London version’s design is bespoke, reflecting the rich heritage and status of London’s black cabs, plus, of course, it incorporates the required turning circle of 7.6 metres.
Among the specific changes that have been made to the front of the NV200 taxi are round headlamps and a remodelled grille mirroring the traditional black cab “face”. LED lighting has improved visibility of the traditional taxi sign.
Design Excellence Manager at NDE, Darryl Scriven, said, “The main challenges were concerned with making sure customers can easily recognise it as a taxi. Being in London, we were able to go out and talk to cabbies about what was important to them, as well as look at the vehicle from a customer’s viewpoint. It’s unusual for us to be able to work on something as bespoke as this, specifically for one location in the world, and we are very proud to have been asked to do so.”
Andy Palmer, Chief Planning Officer and Executive Vice President, Nissan Motor Corporation, said, “Alongside this, our engineers at Nissan Technical Centre Europe in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, have continued work on the cab, running real-world trials on the streets of London.”
Nissan intends to put the NV200 Taxi for London on sale in the capital in December 2014. From launch, the new taxi will be available with a 1.6-litre petrol engine equipped with an automatic gearbox. Compared to current diesel London taxis, this engine will be far cleaner, with lower levels of NOx and particulates.
Nissan is also forging ahead with its pioneering work in the sustainable motoring field, developing a 100 percent electric taxi – the e-NV200 – that it aims to have on the streets of London years ahead of the Mayor’s target of 2020 for the development of a zero-emissions taxi. Nissan’s electric taxi will be on the streets of a UK city in 2015.
Nissan has revealed that ADV Manufacturing will be responsible for the final assembly of its new Taxi for London. It represents a joint investment with Nissan of £6 million to build a brand new, dedicated taxi manufacturing facility in Coventry.
The base vehicle will be sourced from Nissan’s Barcelona factory and shipped to the ADV plant in Coventry for final taxi assembly. The extensive taxi transformation includes new bodywork, taxi interior refit and revised suspension and steering.
Before Nissan and Toyota came on the scene with their taxi designs, the principal model available was the TX4. Marketed today by the London Taxi Company, buyers can choose between two versions, the TX4 Style and TX4 Elegance. At the top end of the scale, for $67,000 your black London taxi comes with air conditioning front and rear, a dark wood style instrument surround, a Euro V compliant engine, and, of course, the 7.3-metre turning circle.
The London Taxi Company (LTI), for all its associated British heritage, is now owned by Geely Automobile Holdings of China, which also owns the Volvo Car Division.
Manufacturing is centred in Coventry, with taxis for the Chinese market being manufactured in a new plant established by Geely in Shanghai. Plans are already underway for the next generation model of the TX4, which will be powered by a Euro VI compliant 2.5-litre, VM Motori engine and due for release in 2015. The current model is already five-star rated under NCAP assessment criteria.
A test sample of 98 white used factory demonstrator “hot-climate” TX4s has arrived in Australia to ply for hire on the streets of Perth. This exercise is part of a trial to test whether any modifications may be needed to be made to the cabs, prior to the full rollout this year of a further 200 new cabs ordered for Australia.
Perth drivers will receive a government-funded package, which, in return for vehicle and usage data, will see them reimbursed for the normal weekly licence fee of AUS$200 for the first four years of ownership. This basically means that they will recoup most of the total cost of the vehicle. Victoria has also announced that it will provide a subsidy of AUS$20,000 per vehicle for the first fifty permit holders. The TX4 will be granted a ten-year life as a taxi, up from six years for a converted sedan.
Metrocab is another name to learn for aspiring taxi drivers, with the company producing an all-new British designed, engineered and built, range-extended, electrically powered taxi.
A division of Frazer-Nash and Ecotive, the Metrocab is powered by two independent brushless electric motors. A 1.0-litre petrol engine, coupled with a generator, is used to recharge the battery pack or provide power directly to the electric motors, in much the same way as the Holden Volt. Plug-in charging is also achieved when the taxi is off duty via a mains electricity connection.
A typical daily range is claimed at 560 km, and fuel efficiency is claimed to be 3.1 l/100 km (75 mpg). Top speed is limited to 125 km/h. Following the in-market trials this year, the Metrocab will be rolled out in London and other key cities in the UK and internationally.