A model of Metrocab shown charging at a model solar-powered charging station

London's future emission-free taxis could be solar-powered

All new London taxis will have to be zero emission capable by 2018, the Mayor of London has announced at an event showcasing designs of future environmentally friendly cabs.

The London Taxi Company, Frazer-Nash and Karsan have put their newly designed vehicles on display today in London, all opting for hybrid technology enabling the vehicles to switch conveniently between an electric zero-emission mode and petrol powered engines.

“To date, one Achilles heel (of the London taxis), particularly the older models, has been the pollution generated by chugging diesel engines,” said the Mayor of London Boris Johnson before the event. “As part to my mission to improve air quality and drive innovation, I’m making a pledge to Londoners that from 2018 all taxis presented for licensing should be zero emission capable.”

Frazer Nash, responsible for the Metrocab design, has gone even further, developing a concept of future solar-powered charging stations to ensure the electricity used to power the new taxis will come from renewable sources.

“As a manufacturer, we believe it is our responsibility to get involved also in the infrastructure side,” said Frazer-Nash’s regional director Gordon Dixon to E&T.  “Part of the problem today, with introducing electric and hybrid electric vehicles to the road, is that there are still too few charging points, so we wanted to get involved in that and we designed a solar charging station that would be able to provide enough energy for an electric vehicle to drive 20,000km per year, even if you take UK’s climate into account.”

The charging station designed by Frazer-Nash would have a roof covered with solar panels, with the energy generated being either used to charge the vehicles directly or fed into the grid for later use.  

Similarly to other vehicles introduced during the event, Frazer-Nash’s Metrocab is equipped with electric motors powering the rear wheels as well as a small petrol engine that is automatically turned on when the battery levels run too low.

“The only way to do an ultra-low emission taxi is to have a range extended electric hybrid vehicle to address the range issues,” explained Paul Woolley, the director of operations at the London Taxi Company. “Obviously for a taxi driver, range is very important, we can’t force a taxi driver to stop and plug in every 50 miles, we have to give him the option to either plug in, or to keep driving with a range extending engine.”

However, questions of green technology were not the only issues the companies had to tackle. The look of London’s black taxi is iconic, one of the symbols of the city, making any design innovations extremely challenging for the artists involved. One of the earlier designs put forward by Nissan was met with public criticism with some even calling the new vehicle ugly.

“There is a real pressure when you are designing something as iconic as the London taxi, it’s an icon not just for London and England, it’s a global icon,” said Rama Gheerawo from the Royal College of Art who helped create the look of a proposed future London taxi built by Turkish company Karsan.

“The way we approached it was that we wanted to talk to taxi drivers, we wanted to talk to Londoners and understand how sensitive this is to the city and then give an appropriate response.”

Gheerawo says what distinguishes Karsan’s vehicle from its competitors is its driver-focused design. In fact, it’s not the passengers, it’s the drivers who spent long hours inside the car, using it as an office, as well as a place to eat and relax.

Karsan’s black cab is also equipped with technology enabling the car to better communicate with the city.

“Our taxi will have some kind of indicator integrated into the roof-line at the eye level of cyclists, so that they can actually see when the taxi is turning,” Gheerawo said. “We will have signs at the back that will tell you when the taxi is stopping, when the passenger is going out and which door is he going to use, so that cyclists, pedestrians, other drivers and users of the city could understand what the taxi is going to do.”

Apart from Karsan, the London Taxi Company and Frazer-Nash, Nissan and Mercedes are also developing their own versions of the future London taxis. Nissan introduced its remodelled version at the beginning of January.

Watch our video from the event below:


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