London Taxi Company of Coventry has revealed the all-new TX5 cab it hopes will capture a major slice of the London taxi market, and carve itself a much larger international export business when it hits the market in 2017.
The unveiling is timed to coincide with a UK meeting today between David Cameron and the Chinese premier, Xi Jinping, who will be first to see the all-new design in the flesh.
Engineered from the ground up on a new plug-in hybrid platform - to give the zero-emissions performance required of all new cabs in London from 2018 - the new LTC design is part of a £250m effort by its new owner, Chinese manufacturer Geely, to revitalise the venerable Coventry-based firm. Li Shufu, Geely's chairman, will also be on hand for the new taxi's debut.
The recent expenditure includes £50m to build an all-new factory that will make at least 36,000 cars a year and will eventually build up to seven different electric vehicles based on the same architecture, an all-aluminium spaceframe clad with composite panels. The current London demand for cabs is only about 3500 units a year.
Geely has so far given no details of the new TX5's mechanical layout beyond the fact that it is a hybrid that uses a nose-mounted four-cylinder petrol engine as a key component, but can run for an extended period entirely on battery power. It obeys all the well-known London taxi requirements for wheelchair access, luggage capacity beside the driver, a tiny turning circle and face-to-face passenger seating (for six people, not five).
"It is little taller and a little longer than its ancestors", says Geely group design boss Peter Horbury, who oversaw the project. "But it's no wider; taxi drivers we talked to told us that was important."
The new taxi was styled at Geely's (formerly Volvo's) design studio in central Barcelona, run by David Ancona, using a mechanical package created at LTC in Coventry. Ancona describes the task of replacing "the only singular taxi in the world" as a deceptively simple brief that gets harder the more you work at it.
Using design influences from the FX4 from 1958, which Ancona and Horbury believe has a greater authenticity than later designs, Geely's designers produced many iterations and two complete designs before they were satisfied, discarding their first major proposal because they felt it lacked gravitas.
"Our first car did the job, re-interpreting things like the vertical grille, the haunches, the bustle-back and the forward opening passenger doors," says Horbury, "but it was a bit too cute. A London cab has to fit effortlessly into the modern scene; to have an air of authority and trustworthiness. We're confident we have that now."