All aboard for the quiet revo­lu­tion

China Daily European Weekly - - COMMENT - Chris Peter­son Chris Peter­son is man­ag­ing editor Europe for China Daily. Con­tact the writer at chris@mail.chi­nadai­

Chi­nese tech­nol­ogy is driv­ing ma­jor changes in the way that Lon­don’s fa­mous buses and taxis are pow­ered

There’s a quiet revo­lu­tion tak­ing place on Lon­don’s busy streets – and China is at the heart of it. There are no ban­ner-wav­ing pro­test­ers de­mand­ing the gov­ern­ment step down, no stu­dents call­ing for a na­tional strike. This revo­lu­tion has crept up on the United King­dom’s cap­i­tal with hardly a whis­per.

Sit­ting in a tra­di­tional Lon­don taxi re­cently, its Nis­san diesel en­gine rum­bling away, I sud­denly sawa sleek, red sin­gle-decker Lon­don bus creep up silently be­side us. Be­ing a keen ob­server, I no­ticed theBYDl­ogo on the front of the ve­hi­cle. Yes, it wasmy first sight­ing of the ad­vance guard of a fleet of elec­tric-pow­ered buses be­ing pro­duced by China’s elec­tric ve­hi­clemak­erBYD.

There are only two of the buses in ser­vice at present. They are op­er­ated by Go-Ahead, one of the cap­i­tal’s main com­pa­nies serv­ing the Trans­port for Lon­don bus net­work.

Im­me­di­ately, you no­tice the ab­sence of the usual clat­ter­ing noise of a diesel en­gine. The only vis­i­ble sign that this ve­hi­cle is in any­way dif­fer­ent is the large ob­long white box on the roof that houses the bat­tery pack. Oh, and a logo on the side say­ing “elec­tric pow­ered”.

The buses can tra­verse Lon­don’s no­to­ri­ous traf­fic for up to 290 kilo­me­ters on a sin­gle charge, and Chi­nese en­gi­neers have helped their lo­cal coun­ter­parts in­stall the nec­es­sary high-speed charg­ing points at bus ter­mi­nals.

The two sin­gle-deck­ers in Go-Ahead’s fleet have now been in trou­ble-free ser­vice for two years.

But here’s the thing. They are sim­ply an ad­vance guard for an even big­ger event— the ad­vent this au­tumn of a fleet of elec­tric-pow­ered dou­ble-deck­ers, with the drive train pro­vided by BYD and the body­work by Scot­tish­based coach­work maker Alexan­der Den­nis Ltd.

BYD has worked to over­come the main prob­lem fac­ing elec­tric-pow­ered dou­ble-deck­ers— where to put the bat­tery packs.

Sin­gle-deck­ers are easy, since they have space to spare when ne­go­ti­at­ing bridges and tun­nels in Lon­don. But ad­vances in bat­tery de­sign means they no longer have to be in­stalled on the roof of the ve­hi­cle but can be housed within the body­work.

The newve­hi­cles will boast zero emis­sion. Trans­port for Lon­don says it aims to have all its buses emis­sions-free by 2020.

But that’s not all the good news— Geely, the Chi­nese au­tomaker that now owns the Lon­don Taxi com­pany, has un­veiled the lat­est black cab for Lon­don’s busy streets.

Look­ing re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to the ex­ist­ing diesel-pow­ered mod­els, it is all-elec­tric, with a small Volvo-de­signed petrol en­gine on standby to recharge the bat­tery and ex­tend the range, if needed.

That, in ef­fect, makes it as close to zero-emis­sion as it’s pos­si­ble to be, given the range black taxis need.

How­ever, it’s go­ing to be a hard sell to win over li­censed Lon­don taxi driv­ers, who are among the most highly trained yet con­ser­va­tive in the world, thanks to the two year “Knowl­edge” course that gives them an un­ri­valled un­der­stand­ing of Lon­don’s com­plex streets – and not a sat­nav in sight.

Alf, who drove me in his cab the other day, is a case in point. He’s been driv­ing a cab for 25 years, and owns his own taxi.

“This cab is in pris­tine con­di­tion, yet TfL in­sists it can­not be used af­ter 19 years. So, I have no al­ter­na­tive but to scrap it. What a waste,” he says. “Will I buy a new­elec­tric cab? I don’t know. I’mtoo old to worry about range. Some ofmy mates say they will, but it’s a huge ex­pen­di­ture for a vir­tu­ally un­tried sys­tem. Maybe I’ll just rent one— but I won’t make as much money.”

TfL has said all taxis will have to be zero emis­sions by 2023. It re­mains to be seen whether Lon­don’s tightly knit cab driv­ers’ so­ci­ety will em­brace the revo­lu­tion.

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