AM Online

London cabs to be built in China

The familiar black cab has been relaunched looking much as it always has, but its maker has had to find a Chinese business partner to make the finances work.

The manufacturer is now called LTI, previously Carbodies, and the only business that remains in the listed Manganese Bronze group portfolio. The supposition is that LTI (London Taxis International) will eventually displace Manganese Bronze as the name of the listed company also.

Three years and £5m has gone in to the rejuvenation of the cab – mainly to meet the demanding Euro IV regulations.

The old shape was retained because of its instant recognition. Most of the hard work on the engine and transmission was done by VM, the specialist Italian engine builder, which produced the 2.5-litre four cylinder turbo-diesel and sourced the five-speed Eaton manual from Brazil and the Chrysler automatic transmission option from the US.

The result was tested over a road mileage that would have cost a punter £250,000.

The intention is to build up to 3,000 per year in the Coventry factory to service the UK replacement demand from the 32,000 cabbies on the road and the 48 export markets. From 2008, there will be a sister plant in China contracted to turn out an initial 20,000 vehicles.

The partner is Geely in Shanghai, an independent that is number nine in the Chinese hierarchy of vehicle-builders. It plans a Honda Civic rival for sale in the US at less than $10,000 by the end of 2008.

Together LTI and Geely will invest £53m in the new plant. LTI will raise the cost of its 38% stake in the joint venture through the sale of 23% of the LTI shares to Geely for around £24m.

The crucial advantage to LTI, according to internal estimates, is that the on-sale price of cabs from the Shanghai factory will be 60% below the price that the Coventry plant can manage. Once Coventry is able to take advantage of components sourced from Geely, it should be able to reduce its costs by 20%.

With prices of the new TX4 up £2,000 to a starting price of £27,000, LTI is struggling to expand its network.

It believes that its greatest international potential is in the recognition of the cab. Business travellers in an unfamiliar country get great comfort from recognizing a London taxi in a hostile city. There was a recent order for 50 cabs from Nigeria from an operator who wanted to be able to present a safer image than his rivals.

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