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New hope for Aussie London Taxi plan

Australia fare: The rescue of Manganese Bronze, which produces the iconic London taxi, is good news for the Aussie branch of transmission supplier Drive Systems International.

Black Cab exports to Oz could be back on agenda as Geely rescues London taxi maker

6 Feb 2013

A PLAN to introduce the iconic ‘black cab’ London taxi to Australia appears to be back on track after the British London Taxi company was rescued from administration by shareholder Zhejiang Geely, a major Chinese car-maker that also owns Volvo.

The news will be welcomed by the Australian branch of Geely-owned transmission manufacturer Drive Systems International (DSI), which has supplied transmissions to The London Taxi Company (LTC) since 2011.

In 2010 DSI confirmed it would export rear-drive five-speed automatic transmissions to China from its factory in Albury, for the Chinese version of the London taxi.

It remains unclear whether the deal was extended to the British version built in Coventry, which used a Jeep Cherokee unit.

Geely last weekend announced it had acquired the business and principal assets of LTC parent company Manganese Bronze Holdings (MBH) for £11.04 million ($A16.7m) to lift it out of administration.

Geely, which invested in MBH in 2006, was also the largest creditor to MBH when it went into administration.

However, LTC export logistics manager Nigel Walters was unable to shed light on whether the Australian export plan would still go ahead.

“While Australia was one of the many export markets that we had been considering prior to administration, as we are literally in day one of the new company it is too early to confirm any future business strategy while the company re-structures and re-organises itself,” he said.

Little is known about how far LTC got with its Australian export plan, news of which emerged when the company’s international marketing manager Maria Holmes-Keeling contacted GoAuto soon before MBH went into administration last October.

Ms Holmes-Keeling – who left LTC when it went into administration – said LTC was doing due diligence to bring the latest TX4 model to Australia and had hoped to make an announcement “shortly”.

She did not say if taxis bound for this country would be sourced from Britain or China. In the latter, the vehicle is sold as the Geely Englon TX4.

In the aftermath of MBH going into administration, Mr Walters said the company was “actively continuing with our international marketing efforts in all areas outside the UK as intended”.

The LTC rescue plan, handled by Geely’s British subsidiary, includes plant, equipment, property, intellectual property rights, trademarks, goodwill, unsold vehicles and the 48 per cent stake MBH had in a joint-venture with Geely to manufacture taxis in Shanghai.

Geely says its priority is to re-establish the manufacture, sale and servicing of new and existing vehicles “on broadly the same basis as existed before the business went into administration”.

Part of this includes continued assembly of the TX4 at the British factory in Coventry and a promise to “involve the current workforce as much as possible” as Geely develops MBH into a business with a long-term profitable future.

Geely intends to develop new models to follow the TX4, aimed at satisfying future needs of the taxi market while drawing on its experience of the automotive industry to “maximise synergies and develop commercial opportunities for the London taxi”.

GoAuto understands one of the new products will be an ultra-low emission taxi aimed at reducing urban pollution and CO2 emissions to suit cities such as London where increasingly strict emissions regulations are being applied on internal combustion engines.

One direction could be a development of the of five hydrogen fuel cell-powered taxis that were used to transport VIPs during last year’s London Olympic Games.

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group chairman Li Shufu said the company was “determined to restore the fortunes of this totemic marque, which is known, recognised and admired all around the world”.

“We are a long-term and committed investor and we believe the illustrious past of the London Black Cab can be matched by a successful and healthy future,” he said.

“We intend to use Geely’s knowledge and expertise to improve the MBH business but we also believe that the brand, technology and design know-how of MBH will create synergies that will benefit Geely and our own model range.”

MBH, which has not turned a profit since 2007, reportedly failed to secure a cash injection from Geely and was tipped into administration when more than 400 right-hand-drive taxis in Britain and other countries were recalled over a potential fault with Chinese-manufactured steering boxes.

The problem was deemed serious enough for LTC to recommend the vehicles were not driven until fixed, advise taxi authorities to suspend the operating licenses of recalled vehicles and offer “temporary assistance” to affected drivers.

A solution to the steering problem was found in December last year and the administrators acted to source and fit British-made steering boxes to the recalled vehicles, plus around 500 unsold taxis held in stock.

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