The London Black Cab has fallen in to Chinese hands after competition from the Mercedes Vito Cab made production unprofitable.
Tower Bridge; Palace of Westminster; Red Double Decker Bus; Black Cab. Anyone, anywhere in the world, will immediately think of London if they see an image of any of these iconic symbols of our capital city. But at least one of these symbols of London – the Black Cab – is in a steep decline.
There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of black cabs plying their trade in London, but if you’ve been in London lately you’ll probably have noticed the queue of cabs at the station waiting for a punter is longer than it used to be. We’re all tightening our belts and even the cabbie’s not immune from the recession. But that’s not the problem. The route of the problem is the Germans – and Mercedes in particular.
Two years ago Mercedes released the first real competition for the Black Cab in the form of a Vito-based Cab that will seat six, turn in the 25′ circle required for a London Cab and undercut the rather dated – if iconic – traditional Black Cab from LTI. And the intervening time has seen the Mercedes Cab take 25% of the market.
The drastic drop in sales – down a third last year – has seen Black Cab makers LTI (London Taxis International – owned by Manganese Bronze) turn to the Chinese for help. Just about every part of the Black Cab is now made in China and bolted together in the Midlands. LTI had also started a joint venture with Geely to produce the Black Cab in China for export to emerging markets in Asia. And the Geely connection has now seen Manganese Bronze sell 51% of LTI to Geely to keep afloat, having lost £21 million last year on sales of £73 million.
Which seems like the beginning of the end , if not for the Black Cab then certainly for the UK-made Black Cab. With a facility in China churning out Black Cabs it seems highly unlikely Geely will continue to manufacture in the UK for very long. Probably the only way forward is to take Mercedes on with cheap Black Cabs from China and compete on price.
Another UK Motoring Icon off to Johnny Foreigner. Are there any left?