Updated: Oct 14
As industries are being encouraged to move to greener fleet vehicles, the taxi industry may have found an interim solution to make some of its iconic taxis more cost effective and environmentally friendly.
Clipper Automotive, a start-up technology firm set up by two experts in their field, Dr Alexander Howard and Janosch Oppermann, aims to turn diesel black taxis into Zero Emission Capable (ZEC) vehicles.
There are currently over 12,000 diesel cabs registered in London alone and each driver travels on average 30,000 miles each year. According to the automotive start-up, certain classes of diesel have up to 60% higher NOx emissions than some equivalent petrol cars.
By focussing on turning these diesel taxis into ZEC vehicles, the ‘Clipper Cab’ product will look to maximise the volume of electrically-powered journeys and reduce harmful emissions.
There are also other benefits to cabbies thinking about the possibility of an electric upgrade on their diesel vehicles. These include; fuel savings, maintenance that is on average 23% cheaper, emission charge exemptions, reduced noise and vibration and finally increased torque.
Speaking about the costs involved to make the conversion, Alex Howard, an experienced manufacturing systems engineer and management consultant, said: “Well, it will certainly be a lot cheaper than buying a new hybrid. Our aim is to build the best and most affordable taxi for London.
“We can't give you exact prices yet, but they will be considerably lower than buying a whole new taxi. Also the running costs will be far less, no diesel, reduced maintenance bills etc.
“We will launch a trial in a regional city first, and on the back of that launch in London. Interested cabbies can pre-sign up by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list of interested drivers.”
As part of the conversion, cabbies will be able to enjoy a 40kWh battery that aims to offer 153 WLTP miles of range. The battery will also allow for rapid charging meaning a quick 30 minute charge will provide a 60% battery top up.
All sounds promising, but how quickly can this technology enter the industry and how many conversions is realistic each at full scale?
Alex told TaxiPoint: “We are aiming to have a certifiable product by mid 2021, and at this point to have a cab starting the 10,000 mile durability test in London. We are planning to launch outside London first where licensing can be easier.
“I think it will be up to the licensing authorities how quickly this can happen, the age restrictions appropriate for the vehicles and what grants the drivers qualify for. In terms of conversion volumes, we can scale up very quickly to do 50 to 100 a year, if the demand is there.”
For anyone that has driven an electric vehicle before, one of the first things you notice is the added torque. The EV drivetrain can offer notably higher acceleration speeds even on the most historically sluggish vehicles.
However, how does the make up of the old taxi chassis and suspension react to the increase in torque that the electric drivetrain brings?
Alex said: “The taxis are very solid, and can take considerable load. You are right in that electric vehicles have high torque potentially, however the stress on the drivetrain is very smooth, there are no gears to crunch through.
“Also the system we install is electronically managed so rate of acceleration, top speed etc. are limited which protects the vehicle. The biggest demand on the taxi is the extra weight of the batteries, but then it is no more than a couple of chubby tourists!”
And finally, should local licensing authorities be supportive of the technology? Unsurprisingly, Alex responded saying: “Yes definitely! We think this is the cheapest, quickest way to clean city transport, it's a win-win for everyone, and the sooner we do it the better.”