Guess who I had in my cab?

We ride in Lon­don taxi

Auto Car (UK) - - CONTENTS - PHOTOGR APHY JED LE­ICES­TER

In most Lon­don taxis, the in­ter­com mi­cro­phone to talk to the driver is lo­cated in the roof of the car. But in the new Lon­don Electric Ve­hi­cle Com­pany (LEVC) TX taxi, the mi­cro­phones are in the win­dow pil­lars in front of the rear seats.

A triv­ial change? Not at all, be­cause when most pas­sen­gers talk to the driver, they lean for­ward – lin­ing up al­most per­fectly with that pil­lar-mounted mi­cro­phone.

Sure, there are big­ger things to ad­mire about the TX taxi, such as the pow­er­train, which fea­tures a 145bhp electric mo­tor along­side a range­ex­tend­ing petrol en­gine. By de­fault, that 1.3-litre en­gine (which doesn’t recharge the bat­tery, so it doesn’t en­cour­age in­ef­fi­cient driv­ing) only kicks in when the 70 miles or so of electric power is de­pleted. How­ever, it can also be de­ployed man­u­ally, al­low­ing cab­bies who live in the sub­urbs to drive in un­der petrol power be­fore switch­ing to electric when they reach zero-emis­sions zones. (From the start of 2018, all new Lon­don taxis must be ca­pa­ble of zero-emis­sions run­ning.) In to­tal, the TX of­fers around 400 miles of range, around 80 more than the cur­rent, diesel-pow­ered TX4.

You could also ad­mire the TX’S bonded-alu­minium ar­chi­tec­ture, which helps off­set the weight of the pow­er­train. Then there’s that fa­mously tight turn­ing cir­cle (8.535m, since you asked), which re­quires front wheels that turn up to

68deg. By com­par­i­son, the wheels of a typ­i­cal SUV turn 38deg.

So there are plenty of big things to ad­mire about the TX. But from where I’m sit­ting, it’s the small de­tails that stand out. Such as the mi­cro­phone. Or the four USB ports, 230V power point and on-board wi-fi. That’s be­cause where I’m sit­ting is the back of a pro­to­type TX cab, which is ne­go­ti­at­ing the tight streets of High­gate in north Lon­don.

Sit­ting be­side me – but not too close, be­cause the back of the TX is re­ally very spa­cious – is Ian Collins, the project’s tech­ni­cal chief. He’s talk­ing me through the de­sign fea­tures that, LEVC hopes, will make the TX a suc­cess, both in Lon­don and around the world. Rotterdam has al­ready bought 225, a Ger­man ver­sion was un­veiled at the Frank­furt show and a plant is be­ing es­tab­lished in China to build vari­ants.

I can hear Collins ex­plain all this to me be­cause the TX is as quiet as you’d ex­pect an electric cab to be, with the pas­sen­ger area acous­tics re­fined for what’s called ‘in­tel­li­gi­bil­ity’. Ba­si­cally, it’s de­signed to hold a con­ver­sa­tion in. In fact, the only en­gine noise I can hear is the diesel trun­dle of an older TX4 cab fol­low­ing us.

For com­par­i­son, I’d headed to LEVC’S base in a TX4 taxi, cos­seted from rush-hour Lon­don chaos in the fa­mil­iar, prac­ti­cal but plain pas­sen­ger space. But jump into the TX and the dif­fer­ence is im­me­di­ate. It’s still rel­a­tively plain – the in­te­rior has to be durable to cope with a fair amount of abuse over a long life – but it feels far more spa­cious, es­pe­cially with its huge glass roof. There’s seat­ing for six, com­pared with five in the TX4. The three rear-fac­ing fold­down seats are stag­gered, en­sur­ing pas­sen­gers don’t rub shoul­ders. Even with six nor­mal-sized peo­ple in­side, there’s enough room to avoid knock­ing knees with the per­son op­po­site.

The ex­tra space is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for dis­abled pas­sen­gers, who gain ac­cess via a ramp that folds out from the door sill in sec­onds. (The TX4’S ramp needs as­sem­bling us­ing parts stored in the boot.) For the first time, the TX has room for a wheel­chair to face for­ward.

Ac­count­ing for that mechanism was “a mas­sive chal­lenge”, ac­cord­ing to Collins. It was “an in­vi­o­lable space” around which the pow­er­train had to be pack­aged.

Pack­ag­ing was a ma­jor is­sue when de­sign­ing the TX. Trans­port for Lon­don rules stip­u­late a max­i­mum length of 5.0m (to fit taxi ranks) and taxi driv­ers didn’t want the TX to be any wider than its pre­de­ces­sor. Then LEVC had to fit in that electric mo­tor, bat­tery, range ex­ten­der and gen­er­a­tor, all with­out squeez­ing the pas­sen­ger space. Mak­ing it all fit was a real achieve­ment.

Which, as I stretch out my legs and re­lax in the TX’S spa­cious in­te­rior, I’m very grate­ful for. Turns out it’s not just the small things I ap­pre­ci­ate about the TX, then…

De­tails stand out, such as four USB ports, 230V power point and wi-fi

TX taxi can pro­vide hushed, ze­roe­mis­sions run­ning

Tech chief Collins (on right) ex­plains de­tails to Attwood

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