BORIS JOHNSON has intervened in the design of a new black cab to ensure that the famous taxi retains its traditional “bowler hat image”.
The London mayor told Nissan that its new model, due to go on sale to cabbies later this year, should be instantly recognisable to tourists who are familiar with the round headlights and chrome grille that have adorned the capital’s taxis since 1958.
Last week Nissan revealed the final design of its new cab, called NV200, which is based on a van made in Spain, which is then shipped to Britain for conversion. It is claimed to be cleaner, more efficient and easier to climb in and out of than models currently on the market.
Andy Palmer, executive vice-president of the Japanese firm, confirmed that he had met with Johnson while the vehicle was being designed at the company’s London design studio in Paddington.
“He made it clear that his preference was a vehicle that was iconic and befitting the city of London,” said Palmer. “He talked about giving it a kind of bowler hat feel in terms of how it looks.
“I think that we’ve done that when you look at the front of the vehicle with its round headlamps and grille. The final decision lay with me and my team in Paddington.”
It is the second time that Johnson has stepped in to champion the familiar black cab. In 2012 he backed an eventually successful campaign to save the company, which makes the rival TX4, which is currently the most common of the 22,000 taxis in London.
The launch of the Nissan will provide cabbies in the capital and other parts of the country where black cabs are frequently used, with something of a dilemma. It is the third vehicle on the market to comply with the strict Hackney Carriage regulations governing taxis that pick up passengers who have not pre-booked in London. This includes the requirement for a turning circle of 25ft.
The TX4, well-known to any visitor to Britain, is made by The London Taxi Company, which can trace its roots back to the original Austin FX4, launched in 1958. It is made in Coventry but the firm is now owned by Geely, the Chinese carmaker. Two years ago it hit problems when a faulty Chinese-made steering box forced the recall of 440 models.
The company has also lost thousands of sales to Mercedes and its Vito taxi. Like the Nissan, it is based on a van but it looks it: the exterior has not been substantially redesigned. It went on sale in 2008 and, by the end of 2012, had 40% of the market.
The London Taxi Company says that it has plans to develop a new cab to take on Mercedes and Nissan, but this is not due for at least five years.
Unlike its diesel-powered rivals, Nissan’s NV200 cab has a 1.6-litre petrol engine, which should contribute less to air pollution. It is also expected to cost less to run than the London Taxi Company’s TX4. In a nod to the likely drivers, it will be sold initially from one dealership in London’s East End, neat Canary Wharf, starting from December.
Next year will see the launch of an electric version, which will be marketed to the government’s fleet car division as eco-friendly transport for government ministers.
It will also help Boris Johnson to achieve his aim of having a zero-emission taxi fleet by the 2020. Before this happens, Palmer said that the mayor needed to stump up the cash for high-speed chargers to allow cabbies to recharge their vehicles.
“Any city in the UK that wants to run a fleet of electric taxis is going to have to put in place the right number of fast chargers,” he said. “It is important that they are as prolific as petrol or diesel stations and in the right spaces.”
According to Source London there are currently four rapid chargers in its charging network, capable of recharging a car’s battery in under 30 minutes. One is in central London.
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