China Set to Steer London Taxi’s Future
By Andy Bannister
In another blow to British national pride, LTI (London Taxis International) is to cease full manufacturing of its much-loved TX4 taxicab in the UK.
The news points to an increasingly rocky road ahead for workers in Coventry, the English city which is home to the iconic London Taxi.
Coventry is the heartland of the desperately-beleaguered UK motor industry, and is best known as the home of Jaguar Cars.
Other once-proud marques including Alvis, Humber, Triumph and Rover had their roots in the city in its manufacturing heyday.
LTI’s recently-acquired Chinese partner, Geely, is the beneficiary of the latest development, which will see the end of production of the famous TX4 “black cab” bodies and chassis in the UK.
Instead, the parts will be made in Shanghai and shipped to the UK before being simply assembled in Coventry.
LTI’s parent company Manganese Bronze – a minnow in the auto industry – recently released its annual results, showing losses of £7.3 million ($11.1m). Company bosses hope to save up to £4 million ($6.1m) by implementing the latest changes.
LTI (the British equivalent of the long-dead US Checker taxicab company) employs around 230 workers in Coventry, with the 60 jobs set to go in the summer – a further blow to the shrinking manufacturing base of the English Midlands region.
The company’s management has described the situation as “unfortunate” and a “difficult situation”, but has spoken of its commitment to keeping the TX4 a UK product.
The major sales market is the British capital, London, where local regulations makes the TX4 the favoured choice of most “cabbies”, and locals and tourists alike revere the vehicle as a symbol of the city.
The recession has badly hit this specialist business, and 2009 was a difficult year for British taxi manufacturing, with production only kept moving thanks to significant discount and sales incentives.
LTI says it will be left with “a smaller lower cost UK operation with a much greater level of supply from China”.
Trade union and community leaders are understandably bitterly disappointed at the news. Coventry and The Midlands has already seen the collapse of the MG Rover company, snapped up by another Chinese conglomerate, followed more recently by the failure of light commercial vehicle manufacturer, LDV.
Concerns about the long-term future of the factory remain, as the TX4 is already available fully-built as a Chinese product. There’s a real risk that this very British icon could before much longer end up being imported from the Far East, lock, stock and barrel.