Manganese Bronze, the maker of the classic London taxi and a former niche player in Coventry’s once booming car-making arena, is now the last car company in the city. However, it is struggling with the recession. Production is down to 12 vehicles a day during a four-day week in the UK and is barely at break even.
Costing around $50,000, they are not cheap. Regulations such as the requirements of turning circles have helped protect the company’s dominant supply position in recent years – but it has suffered a fall of up to 40% in demand during the past year.
With the start of commercial production and sales of the taxis in China by a joint venture with carmaker Geely, it is now pinning its hopes on the London taxi becoming an affordable option for cabbies worldwide.
After an aborted attempt to set up a manufacturing and sales licensing deal with Brilliance China Automotive in 2002, Manganese Bronze turned to Geely in 2006. The Chinese carmaker, which has become a 20% shareholder in the company, has finally begun production of London taxis in a plant in Shanghai.
Financial Times reports that if the UK business is fragile, there is no doubting the robustness of the black cabs that have rolled off the production line at Manganese Bronze’s plant for several decades. London taxis typically cover between 20,000 and 30,000 miles a year – with annual mileages of 100,000 clocked up by some cabbies in far-flung parts of Scotland.
The average life span of a vehicle is 12-13 years with many taxis, often driven across shifts by different drivers, covering more than a million miles during their time on the road.
There were private owners. The writer many times saw Nubar Gulbenkian, Jr., with his hallmark orchid buttonhole, tootling around the West End in a taxi which had been converted to look like a Rolls Royce. When asked its special virtues, he said, ‘It will turn on a sixpence . . . whatever that might be.’