Londoners could be hailing the first battery-powered black cabs in early 2009
Plans to launch a fleet of electric black cabs in London are gathering pace with further meetings between UK officials and the co-owners of the company that makes the capital's iconic taxis.
According to an article in the Financial Times, Chinese company Geely, which co-owns black-cab-maker Manganese Bronze, has been in talks with UK government officials to discuss the launch of electric taxis in London next year.
"One of our ideas is to convert London taxis [to electric propulsion]," Li Shufu, the company's chairman, told the Financial Times. "We are doing research on this project."
Matthew Cheyne, Manganese Bronze's international development director, told BusinessGreen.com that a partnership between his company and electric vehicle specialist Tanfield Group, announced in April, is progressing and that the first electric black cabs could be on London’s roads early next year.
"We have given Tanfield some gliders [engineless taxis], basically vehicles that they can start doing some work on, but it is very much in the early stages, " said Cheyne.
According to information released in April the all-electric version of Manganese Bronze’s TX4 black cab – to be branded the TX4E – will have a top speed of 50mph and a range in excess of 100 miles on one battery charge.
Although there is not a specific date set yet for trials of the electric cabs, Cheyne confirmed that the companies were looking at early next year to introduce a fleet of ten prototype vehicles.
Given Geely's international reach the cabs may be deployed elsewhere in the world but London will offer a "good proving ground" for the technology, according to Cheyne, because of the intensity at which the fleet would be used and the potential infrastructure for recharging.
In June, London Mayor Boris Johnson invited manufacturers to put forward proposals for low-carbon cabs. "As well as significantly cutting carbon dioxide emissions, we're looking for taxis that are quieter and produce fewer air pollutants, which will be good news for anyone who spends time in London," Johnson said at the time.
Although the mayor reportedly discussed the electric cab project with Geely representatives while at this summer's Beijing Olympics, there does not appear to be a firm commitment from Transport for London (TfL), or any other authority, to actually purchase the electric cabs. "At the moment it is between us and Tanfield Electric. Logic would say that there is a benefit for Transport for London but at the moment it is us developing it," he said.
Relations between Manganese and TfL may have been strained after 12 TX4 cabs caught fire in September. Manganese was forced to launch a product recall at a cost of around £4m.
Once developed, the TX4E taxi will be powered by a Tanfield electric drive train and a lithium-iron-phosphate battery pack. Based on current electricity prices, the companies estimate the TX4E will cost less than 4p per mile to run but is likely to have a higher initial purchase price than the diesel-powered TX4.
A spokesperson for TfL said: "The Public Carriage Office (PCO) is keen to work with motor manufacturers to introduce taxis to London with lower fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, including electrically powered vehicles. Any manufacturer, existing or prospective, should bear in mind that vehicles must meet the London conditions of fitness."