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It takes a lot to impress a London cabbie, but as Neville Robertson pulls up to a sea of taxis at a stop light next to Buckingham Palace, he’s the center of attention.
The driver next to him winds down his window and shouts, “you like it?” Robertson, 53, knows what he’s asking about. “It’s good!” he answers. He gets a skeptical grimace in response.
The drivers are so interested in Robertson’s car because they know it’s their future. Robertson’s is one of the first vehicles delivered to meet the city’s decree that all new taxis have to be electric. It’s a TX City, built by the London Electric Vehicle Company, a subsidiary of China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. There are 34 on the road at the moment, with 20 a week rolling off the line.
On the outside, it’s a little boxier than a traditional London taxi but recognizable nonetheless and it meets the regulatory requirement of a 25-foot turning circle—small enough to negotiate the roundabout at the entrance to the Savoy Hotel. There’s still an engine there, though it looks tiny in the space: The sole function of the 1.5 litre petrol motor is to charge the batteries if they get low.
Those batteries have been stored along the floor and then under and behind the rear passenger seat. There’s no luggage space at all, but even heavily laden travelers rarely bother to use the trunk of a London cab.
The passenger compartment remains familiar: a three-wide bench and then fold-down seats opposite: three of them, meaning the car can now carry six people. There are fixings for a wheelchair and a built-in ramp under the door. It’s kitted out as a mobile office, with a socket for a laptop, USB ports for other devices, and wifi. And you might be able to get some work done since you’re no longer jostled by every bump in the road.
But sit down and you’re immediately struck by the biggest change: The huge clear roof panel. “It’s quite a nice effect at night,” says Robertson, who has been a chauffeur for 30 years. “It will be excellent for the Christmas lights.”
When Robertson pulls away, you notice the other difference. London black cabs are loud. Even when they’re not moving, you can hear their diesel engines chug away. The new copy isn’t just quiet, it’s silent. There aren’t many more ways to describe the total absence of noise, but try this: At one point as we drove past St James’s Park, I swear I heard birdsong.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.