First Drive : Metrocab

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Andrew Elphick gets an early first drive of the exciting new hybrid taxi, which promises to change the way we view Hackney Carriages in London.

Metrocab night London

The new Metrocab isn’t just a new model from an existing manufacturer – it is a new way of thinking to fit a specific specification. Let me explain…

London is not unique in having ‘Taxis’. However, it stands alone in the respect they must confirm to a specific set of regulations before you can even think of collecting a fare. The Conditions of Fitness are the fixed regulations a ‘Hackey Carriage’ must meet. Everyone knows the 25ft (7.5m) turning circle, and the requirement for wheelchair access. But there’s more, much more.

The passenger door must be a certain width, height and opening angle, and sufficient ground clearance must be maintained. Oh and, since January 2014, the rules state that, by 2018, all Hackney Carriages must be Zero Emissions-capable – that means a Hybrid or pure EV powertrain will be the only game in town.

We know London Taxis International is working on a prototype and Nissan too is trialing the Leaf-underpinned NV200 in Holland (though this isn’t the specific gawky-looking ‘Hackney’ variant) – this being the only credible rival at present to the Metrocab. However, nobody has been allowed to unlock a Nissan door yet, let alone drive it.

We have driven the Metrocab…

3_Side_profile

So the burning question is: Does it deliver? Yes.

In 2013, Metrocab opened itself – well, its prototype taxi – to the most demanding consumer on the planet, the badge-holding cab driver. A cabbie isn’t buying a car, he is buying a tool, and you have more chance of finding a Unicorn than pleasing every cabbie! However, if the seat isn’t quite perfect, or any other seemingly unimportant detail isn’t quite right they will never sign on the dotted line.

The feedback from the Taxi trade members seemed to be that the new Metrocab was 95% there.  The upsell is the technology, not the vehicle. Interestingly, any ‘low emission incentive’ is in addition to the potential price, not part of it.

 The technology is familiar – if you’re a car fanatic, it’s how a Vauxhall Ampera functions. In essence, a donkey engine recharging an electric drivetrain as necessary. The Metrocab is a ‘Range Extended Electric Vehicle’, a battery-powered vehicle with its own fuel-burning electrical power station attached.

First off it has a petrol engine. You will not be stuck on the side of the Hammersmith flyover with your hazard lights rapidly diminishing. Metrocab is still undecided as to which petrol engine it will have and has a 15-vehicle trial fleet powered by various different engines. Ultimately, the engine will be Euro6 specification from either Ford, GM or PSA and will be around 1.0-litres, with three cylinders.

There’s no gearbox, DPF or clutch. It will run at a fixed speed when started – just like a commercial generator – while supplying electricity to the drivetrain. Each rear wheel has an individual electric motor (AC brushless, no moving parts, indefinite service life) and, between these motors, is an ‘electronic’ differential just like a regular rear axle. You supply electricity to this differential and it feeds the electric motor when needed. The electricity is supplied by the battery, fully recyclable with an estimated eight-year life in commercial Taxi usage.

This battery has two methods of charging: petrol engine or road/home side charging socket – if you live on the 18th floor, then you will need the petrol engine to recharge. An approximate range of 70 miles is promised between 10-minute full recharges. With the petrol engine, this is promised at 75mpg. Thus, if the battery is flat, you use the petrol engine until the battery has charged. The battery is situated under the passenger floor, giving a very low centre of gravity, and the motors are situated inboard.

The steering is one link to the old Metrocab; an enhanced version of the billion-mile proven steering components are used. The brakes are a mix of discs all round, but with a rengerating effect: you brake, you recharge the battery momentarily and this also means less wear on the mechanical brakes. Finally, you get a mechanical handbrake.

8_Charging_point

How does it drive, then? The overall view from those present was ‘surprisingly’. Electric-powered vehicles obviously have a stepless torque curve – they just accelerate in a linear fashion. Top speed is limited to 80mph, and you get there quite quickly. There’s an aluminium drive selector knob which you pull up (easily) and twist to select Park, Drive, Neutral, or Reverse before releasing – just like a Jaguar XF. You will never accidently knock it into drive, that’s for certain.

Get over the power uptake from a standstill and it drives like a car or, more accurately, a Taxi. You might notice the small steering wheel or the TFT screen instruments, but everything else is normal. You have touch screen the size of an iPad Mini to show you nice electronic bar graphs, but the heater controls, passenger compartment controls and windows are all traditional.

A digital taxi meter is fitted as standard, though additional fuseboard and looms are provided for radio and alternate metering equipment. Interestingly, the touch screen operates as a 4G phone, a GPS Sat Nav and a radio/MP3 player, as you would expect. However, it features internal and external cameras – with litigation claims and passenger attacks sadly not uncommon, this is a useful feature as standard fit. This technology also gives you tracking and data logging, a useful tool for the Taxi fleet operator.

As a vehicle it steers, stops and handles very well – certainly as well as any modern small commercial. Standard Michelin Taxi tyres are fitted, though manufactures are being approached to design specific low rolling resistance tyres to boost the economy further. The low centre of gravity is particularly effective at resisting body roll too, aided by air suspension. A specific commercial application is used, so the ride is levelled in transit – however, the unexpected bonus is the speedhump/pothole/kerb capability. You feel them as a passenger, but the damping effect means your head doesn’t crash off the side of the cab in the back. Very, very good… Try it and be surprised.

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That leaves the burning question – how much?

Metrocab says that its new cab will be priced somewhere between the London Taxis International TX4 and the Mercedes-Benz Vito. Any Low Emissions grant will be the owner’s to keep on top of this figure. Shortly, passenger arrive-and-ride Q&A sessions will be held in London, followed by a second tranche of 10-20 minute test drives in the capital on public roads, leading to 24 hour trials. However, to join these trials you will need to register on Metrocab’s website, so details can be forwarded.

AROnline’s take on the new Metrocab? Well, it’s built properly, priced effectively and it looks like this will be another British-built winner. We wish the company well.

15 Comments

  1. Great article answering many of the questions I have about this remarkable vehicle. The most interesting is the speed bump capability. Its the type of engineering you expect to find in a Rolls Royce.
    I do hope this vehicle is a success for Metrocab/Frazer-Nash systems both in the UK and abroad.I think only reliability would stop it and that remains to be seen.
    Interesting that LTi are working on a new hybrid system.

  2. Great review and a fascinating looking vehicle. I wish Metrocab all the best with this venture and look forward to travelling in one of these in the near future.

  3. It looks like a great taxi. Metrocab must work right now on its exports prospects, it could be a huge success in continental Europe alone.

  4. A large number of medallion cabs in NY City are hybrids. They are very popular with the owners or day-lease drivers of fleet owned vehicles due to their much lower fuel costs. For core urban areas like London, hybrids make a lot of sense due to the high percentage of stopped and idle time as well as no need to go more than 50 MPH.

  5. A huge step forward for the traditional black cab, 75 mpg, an almost silent hybrid engine and masses of space, I reckon this could do really well. Also a top speed of 80 mph isn’t bad considering how congested London is.

  6. Lovely article. Engineering with a real purpose. As a car nut with an electrical engineering background I would love the Ampera to be profitable and be adopted by other manufacturers

  7. A great new version, it definitely looks the part and in Black looks better than the white, with the high MPG and quality of the ride, this should be a sure fire hit, only time will tell, and with the three main opposition also either nearing new models, or in the process of launching, it will definitely be a make or break car.

    And this deserves to be a Make car, I just hope that the pricing is good, and TFL does not decide to make any extra charges to the operators.

  8. Looks like a competent vehicle indeed mechanically.

    However, just because Metrocab calls it range extended does not make it like the Ampera. In fact from the description it is a plug-in hybrid because the engine can charge the battery.

    The Ampera system allows you to drive 30 or so battery miles, at which point the engine starts up to keep the battery only a few percent above minimum charge.

    If you want to charge the battery in the Ampera, you HAVE to plug it in. This is much more efficient than using the engine to recharge the battery, which is why it is the way it is. Extended range refers only to the fact that you can use the engine to go beyond the all battery power range.

    So, this Metrocab is just a plug-in hybrid. Over here we have the Prius Plug-in, the Ford C-Max plug in, the Honda Accord plug in and so on. The only difference between them and regular hybrids is the bigger battery and a power cord. They are not popular because the huge batteries add well over 100 kgs to the weight to continually lug around, and the cost for the big battery can be ruinous.

    For city taxi service, the plug-in hybrid may make sense, since presumably Metrocab has run simulations to prove it. The Priuses and Camry hybrids used by taxicabs here are never the plug-in type unless they got a great deal they couldn’t turn down.

    Does make me wonder about the small engine though – when the battery is depleted like on an airport run, this thing may be a gasper.

  9. Bill @9: no worries about the battery depleting, the engine isn’t used as a propulsion device, only an electricity generator. So the Metrocab uses battery power all the time, just some times those batteries are being charged. Not as efficient as plug in charging granted, but the practicality of not be tied to a charging point for those who live in places without access.

  10. @9 @10
    The first generation of Wright hybrid double deckers in London went with a tiny (for a bus) Transit Diesel engine, which turned out to be too small (the rival ADL and Volvo hybrids went with a larger engine) so yes I share your concern, the small engine is great if you’re stuck in traffic constantly, but on the run to Heathrow or at night when traffic is lighter, will the batteries be recharged quickly enough?

  11. @11
    Not sure, this how a Prius works, the batteries have 28 cells and supply the inverter @120v, the inverter produces 3 phase ( around 1200v when tottied up and when the battery’s start to run down the engine kicks in and runs the CVT and charging system.

  12. @Andrew

    First thing I noticed too, the Halfords special plastic trims.

    Doesn’t need ripspeed alloys either, MINI-style steel wheels with retro chrome hubcaps would probably suit it.

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