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.