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NISSAN NV200 LONDON TAXI
THE LONDON TAXI: BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
The London Taxi, or Hackney Carriage, has been a celebrated icon of British life since the 17th century. It is loved and respected in equal measure around the world.
Relied upon my millions of travellers, tourists and commuters every day, the familiar black cab is an integral part of the City's transport network and enjoys a special place in the hearts of visitors and residents of London and the UK's other major cities.
The story of the London Taxi begins long before cars were even invented. Although the origins of the term ‘Hackney coach' is unclear, historians suggest that it derives from the French word hacquenée, which roughly translates as a horse suitable for hire.
The first Hackney coaches - large and luxuriously trimmed horse-drawn carriages - appeared during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1. Wealthy Londoners often looked to recoup the high costs of keeping horses, drivers and coaches by hiring them out to lesser members of the gentry.
A more organised and structured taxi service was introduced in 1634 when Captain John Bailey - a regular member of Sir Walter Raleigh's many expedition teams - set up London's first taxi rank. He started with four Hackney Carriages by the Maypole in the Strand, and set strict rules for what drivers could charge. He also introduced a code of conduct for his employees - along with a special livery to mark his carriages out from the crowd.
The popularity of the horse-drawn Hackney Carriage continued for the next 200 years with the biggest change coming in 1823 when a faster two-seater, two-wheel carriage arrived from France. Called a cabriolet, it quickly became known as a ‘cab' - with drivers referred to as ‘cabbies'.
The taxi story took another turn at the end of the 19th Century, when The Capital's first motorised cabs hit the street. Just to prove that London was already thinking of the future, the first examples to hit the streets were electrically-powered, zero-emissions vehicles. The Bersey taxi was named after its designer, Walter C Bersey of the London Electrical Cab Company, and soon earned the nickname ‘Hummingbirds' after the distinctive sound they created.
Sadly, the electric cab proved to be rather too futuristic for its own good. Expensive to run and temperamental, the travelling public soon lost confidence in them and by 1900, the Bersey had been completely withdrawn from service.
The dawn of the modern era of London taxis was in 1903 Emerging car manufacturers raced to develop them with a French-built Prunel winning the race to be the first petrol-powered Hackney Carriage to hit London streets.
In an effort to standardise design and passenger fares, the Public Carriage Office introduced Conditions of Fitness for all motor cabs in 1906. Among the many requirements was a turning circle of 25ft - the exact outer diameter of the roundabout in front of the famous Savoy Hotel in London. This, along with many other regulations, helped filter out less suitable machines, and ensured that only the most safe and manouvreable cabs were permitted to trade. Another innovation that remains with us today - the taximeter - became compulsory in 1907 and gave rise to the name taxi.
The First World War hit London's taxi fleet hard, with all manufacturers switching operations to help the war effort. Indeed, it wasn't until the 1920s that new designs started to filter back onto the Capital's streets. Even then, the trade was slow to pick up and had barely recovered before war intervened once more.
After World War II, the taxi business bounced back. An urgent need for new models prompted Morris and Austin to launch new models. But while the Morris Oxford was the first to arrive in 1947, it was the 1948 Austin FX3 - built by Carbodies of Coventry - that created the template for the familiar London black cab.
Thanks to booming sales, Austin developed a 2.2-litre diesel for the FX3 and despite competition from rivals it became the machine of choice for London's growing band of cabbies. Its replacement, the FX4, arrived in 1958 and would go on to be a common sight for the best part of five decades.
Having bought the production rights from Austin in the early 1980s, Carbodies had little budget to develop a new model and was forced to update the FX4 with new drivetrains. Among the most popular with cabbies was the Nissan TD27 diesel, which was offered in the 1989 Fairway model. Helped by the introduction of compulsory wheelchair access, the Nissan-powered Fairway remains a favourite with many London taxi drivers to this day. New regulations which restrict the use of taxis over 15 years old will result in the disappearance of these iconic models from the Capital's roads in the next few months.
The same Nissan engine went on to power the Fairway's replacement - the retro-styled TX1. Designed and built by London Taxis International (formed after the acquisition of Carbodies and taxi dealer Mann and Overton by Manganese Bronze Holdings) the 1997 TX1 and its replacements the TXII and TX4 have defined the look of London's taxi fleet for the last 15 years.
Now, we see the first real challenger to the TX family arrive on London's streets. The Nissan NV200 London Taxi sets new standards for passenger comfort, efficiency and emissions. Building on the strengths of the highly successful New York City and Tokyo taxi projects, the NV200 London Taxi ushers in a new era in taxi design. And with a Zero Emissions electric e-NV200 set to follow it into production, the next chapter in the rich history of the famous London Taxi is about to begin...