There was once a time when a cab was easily identifiable. Looking like a throwback to the 1950s, its boxy shape set it apart from more modern vehicles on the road. If the vehicle was always black its driver was invariably white (and male), usually sporting a flat cap, a muffler and speaking in an East London accent.
A visitor to London is now confronted with a bewildering choice.
Black, silver, electric blue and even pink and that’s just the vehicles. Many covered with advertising and now some with illuminated roof adverts that look more akin to their New York cousins.
Soon we are promised a huge choice for the vehicle we can drive. The iconic shape (even in its latest transmogrification) is being swamped by the new Mercedes, looking akin to a van but soon we have been promised as least four new pretenders to the cab crown. London needs something iconic, as Boris Johnson said “it needs to conjure up an image of a bowler hat, and I think it does that.”
So it was on a wet January morning that the latest ‘black’ cab was unveiled.
This is Nissan’s second attempt to convince the London market that its NV200 (which is New York’s official cab) should be embraced by London’s cabbies. Its original effort was unveiled last year to a lacklustre reception and after discussions with many interested parties (including your humble writer) the new taxi goes on sale in December 2014 available from a purpose built showroom in Canary Wharf.
Concerned that the first taxi resembled – well, a van – their European design centre based in Paddington went back to the drawing board to give the model a more familiar look. The changes include replacing the angular headlamps with round lights similar to those used on the Nissan Juke, a new grille and redesigned front bumper, while the rooftop taxi sign is now lit with LEDs to make it more obvious at night. Executive Vice President Andy Palmer claims the design epitomises everything that a black cab should be and was designed in London, making it instantly recognisable as a cab.
As with all London cabs, the Nissan meets the requirement for a 7.6-metre turning circle. However, it achieves this with clever front suspension geometry, rather than requiring electric rear-wheel steering at low speeds in the way the Mercedes Vito taxi does. Powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine, Nissan claims economy of around 38mpg and CO2 emissions of 179g/km – considerably better than the stated 32mpg and 233g/km of the current 2.5-litre diesel TX4 London taxi. This should prove popular as one of the best post-war taxis; the FX4 Fairway and later TX1 were powered by Nissan engines, only being changed to other manufacturers to meet The Mayor’s emission requirements.
While a standard London cab currently starts from £32,995, the Nissan is expected to cost less than £30,000, brought about by the economy of scale as the basic version is available in New York, Barcelona and Tokyo. Nissan plans to build 140,000 NV200 taxis per year worldwide, that’s the same number as black cabs have been sold in total since 1948 in the United Kingdom. An electric version is planned in 2015.
Design features include side running boards to give it a more distinctive look, sliding doors at the side are bigger than the standard for better wheelchair access, and this also prevents passengers opening the door in front of oncoming cyclists. The front has been redesigned the thinking behind that is that most taxis are hailed from the front, so that’s where the changes have happened. The vehicle also boasts a panoramic roof for sight-seeing all the better to observe London’s leaden skies.