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.
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…
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.
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.
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.