Sam Philip17 January 2014

Nissan black cab ‘ticks all the boxes’

“To be frank, the current London taxi is not the most beautiful…” Nissan VP hits back at NV200 criticism

A couple of weeks ago, Nissan revealed the new face of its London-bound ‘NV200' black cab. We were quite rude about it. So were you.

But now Nissan vice-president Andy Palmer has hit back at criticism of the NV200, explaining the motivation behind its unusual facelift and saying the van-based cab ‘ticks all the boxes'.

"I know it's been a mixed reaction. I can read the blogs as well," he says with a pointed look in the direction of Top Gear. "But, to be frank, the current London taxi is not the most beautiful in the world. We tried to create something that was reminiscent of a London taxi, but do it in a way that was fresh and different. So it doesn't look like a 1948 Austin FX3. The important thing is that you recognise it as a cab."

Palmer reveals that the NV200's front end was redesigned after consulting London's taxi drivers.

"When we talked to the cabbies, they said the [Mercedes] Vito cabs don't get hailed because the customer doesn't recognise them as a cab," explains Palmer. "So it was their request that they wanted something with the attributes of a cab, and that's why you end up with the big grille. You'll notice we don't put the Nissan badge on the front, so that when you approach it, you don't think it to be a passenger car."

Look beyond the NV200's exterior, says Palmer, and you'll find an environment several generations removed from the, erm, traditional cabins of the current black cab crop.

"From an interior point of view, it's wonderful compared to the cabs you have today. You've got an enormous amount of space, wheelchair access, panoramic roof, bacteria-free seating, all the electronic interaction.

"I don't think the discussion on styling really matters or not. I don't think anyone would disagree that it's a taxi. What the taxi drivers worry about is total cost of ownership: is it cheap to run, am I going to attract my fare? It ticks all those boxes."

Palmer is similarly evangelical about the upcoming all-electric e-NV - the battery-powered, zero-emissions version - but admits it will need the backing of city administrators to make it viable.

"Taxi drivers themselves are worried about it [going electric]," he says. "We think they're probably OK with two fast charges [each day], but it won't work unless you've got the network of fast chargers around the city. You've got 22,000 cabs running around London. That means there's a lot of demand. That's an infrastructure discussion."

Making a network of electric cabs work in London will require not only many, many charging points, but legislation too. "Operation costs on an electric cab are a lot lower, so some of the cabbies are going to fall in love. An electric cab is only going to work if [the authorities will] regulate and legislate to make it worthwhile. If you create a congestion where only electric cabs can go. In Westminster, 38 per cent of the particulates in the air are coming from the cabs. Take the cabs out of Westminster, and suddenly your air is a hell of a lot cleaner."

But whether electric or petrol - the standard NV200 uses a 1.6-litre turbo petrol - Palmer says Nissan's new hackney carriage will win over cabbies. "If you've got a cab that's cheaper than a Fairlady FX4, it's got significantly better fuel consumption, it's got better durability, it's got great ergonomics... it becomes a pretty darn compelling reason to buy. Irrespective of whether you like the looks or not."

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