London's famous black taxis turn white for Australia

LONDON (AFP) - The iconic black London cab is to hit the streets in Australia for the first time - though the taxis have been painted white to cope with the Antipodean heat.

A shipment of 98 TX4s has been unloaded in Perth for a four-year trial in the west coast city, the first of 200 heading Down Under, manufacturers The London Taxi Company said.

The taxis will be plying for hire in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, later this month.

"They're white, which is probably better in a hot climate, but they are also specifically hot-climate vehicles. They have different ventilation to make sure they don't overheat," a spokeswoman for The London Taxi Company told AFP.

The taxis sent to Perth are ex-demonstration models.

In a publicly-funded package, the city's cabbies will have their normal weekly licence fee waived for the first four years of running them - meaning they will recoup almost the full vehicle cost - if they take up the TX4.

"The response has been phenomenal," said Evan Simeon, who heads the company's operations in Australia.

"One Perth operator who purchased a fleet of 50 bright white, used TX4s has already had a stampede of drivers who want to be the first ones to buy a cab and partake in the trial.

"What has been especially gratifying are the offers from expat London taxi drivers who not only want to buy one, but have also offered their services to train our Australian drivers on everything from the service to vehicle operation."

The manufacturer was rescued from administration earlier this year by Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

The company has two factories: one at Coventry in central England for the domestic British market, and one in Shanghai for worldwide sales. The Perth cabs were shipped from the Chinese commercial hub.

He said a new, intensive driver training course would be implemented in Perth, similar to "The Knowledge" - the methods London cab drivers use to remember every street in the city and work out routes between them.

"It is integral to the entire proposition - a TX4 is nothing without a professional driver behind the wheel," said Matthew Cheyne, international sales director for The London Taxi Company.

The firm claims their vehicles are the only cars in the world designed specifically for use as cabs. They have a 7.6-metre turning circle and retain much of their original 1948 design.

There are now London taxis operating in 60 countries including Germany, Bahrain, Kosovo and Lebanon, though some only in very small numbers.

There are 1,000 purple ones in Azerbaijan, while Saudi Arabia has 400 on order - 200 black and 200 in an assortment of colours.