DISCUSSION Black Cab

by Yolanda Villafuerte _______5th March 2013
Share
*

Nothing says London like a black cab.

However these iconic black cabs are undergoing a few changes: they are now owned by a Chinese company, and they might not be seen exclusively in London anymore.

The Austin FX4 black cab was introduced in the late 1950s, with their fully hydraulic brakes, signature bunny-eared turn indicators and manoeuvrability proving to be a big hit. It was famous for being able to “turn on a sixpence” and navigate through traffic, features that made it popular with a number of celebrities.

The FX4 wasn’t without its faults – slowness being the chief of these – and was replaced by first the TX1 then TX4 models. However even these couldn’t compete with six-passenger minivans such as the Mercedes Vito, and with cab drivers now allowed to use these, the company making black cabs Manganese Bronze struggled. Failing to turn a profit since 2007, Manganese Bronze declared bankruptcy in November 2012 after a difficult year.

The company was acquired by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group – which was already a Manganese Bronze shareholder – in February, for just over £11 million. This isn’t the first acquisition Geely has made, as the ambitious company acquired Volvo Cars from Ford Motor Co in 2010, and earlier in February they signed an agreement with Kandi Vehicles to set up a joint venture for electric vehicles.

The acquisition was largely welcomed, with Mayor Boris Johnson saying that he was “delighted that Geely has successfully secured the future of the London Taxi Company, ensuring the continuing manufacture of a world famous, fully accessible and instantly recognizable vehicle synonymous with London.”

However the black cab might not be synonymous with London alone for much longer. Geely has recently unveiled their plans for the company, which includes £100m of investment and 100 new UK jobs. Perhaps more questionably, part of this plan involves their “global taxi project”, which will introduce the iconic black cabs’ to China and other cities around the globe. The company is already claiming to have sold 200 black cabs to customers in Saudi Arabia, and another 200 to Australia.

Li Shufu, founder of Geely, says that he believes that the London taxi is one of “the UK’s two global brands in the automotive industry”, and that there is worldwide interest in the cab which “has a lot of global influence”.

It remains to be seen if the once-iconic black cab is able to retain its global influence, even after they are shipped out globally. Yet Geely – who are predicting that the company will turn a profit within 12 months and are investing £100m investment over five years  in it – clearly think so.

Sarah Primmer is a research volunteer at Tomorrow’s Company. She is currently studying Chinese and History at SOAS.

Sign-up to our mailing list to receive all our latest discussions, publications and events.