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Next Gen London Taxis Will Be Plugin Hybrids

Originally published on Gas2.

London-Taxi-PHEVThe next generation of London taxis will be gas powered plug-in hybrids. Here’s why. After the Arab Oil embargoes in the 70’s, all of Europe and the UK went crazy for diesel powered cars, because diesel engines are more fuel efficient than their gas powered cousins. Diesel fuel in that part of the world is taxed at a lower rate than gasoline to encourage motorists to buy diesel powered cars. As a result, almost half of all new cars sold there every year are diesels.

But there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?) The one thing European and UK regulators didn’t realize 40 years ago is that diesel emissions are considerably higher than those from gas powered engines, especially when it comes to nitrous oxides and particulates. Manufacturers were supposed to be designing systems to deal with those issues, but as we now know from the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal, diesel emissions in the real world are much higher than they appear to be in testing.

Today in London, every one of its thousands of iconic black taxis is diesel powered. A study done by the city of London indicates that 20% of all the nitrous oxide and particulate emissions in the local atmosphere come from those taxis. Boris Johnson, London’s high profile mayor, says  electric and hybrid-electric vehicles are key to improving the capital’s air quality. According to ArsTechnica, Johnson told a session of the London Assembly last week, “I want to particularly encourage electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids—they are the way forward.”

When it comes to taxis, the mayor is going to get his wish. All of London’s taxis are built by the London Taxi Company, which has just completed the first new vehicle manufacturing facility in the UK in more than ten years at a cost of $500 million. The new cab, called the TX5, will be powered by a small gasoline engine and a battery. It will operate on battery power alone until it runs out and then the gas engine will kick in to top up the battery. Americans will recognize this as the system used by the Chevy Volt.

Central London will be designated an ultra low emissions zone in 2018. After that, any car entering the city will have to be capable of driving at least 30 miles on electric power alone. Presumably, the TX5 taxi will be able to meet that requirement. Visually, the new cab will look very much like the existing London taxi, the TX4. It will have six seats, a panoramic glass roof, space for a forward-facing wheelchair. Each TX5 will be a wi-fi hot spot and will have power points to recharge electronic devices. Buyers can have their cab painted in any color they choose, as long as it’s black.

The London Taxi Company is owned by Geely, the Chinese car company that also owns Volvo. The TX5 will be built using Chinese electric vehicle technology and the new plant will be funded by Geely. The London Taxi Company says that half of London’s current stock of black cabs will be replaced by the TX5 within the next five years.

Reprinted with permission.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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