China firm buys London black cab maker

1 February 2013
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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 Chinese car maker Geely has bought Manganese Bronze, the maker of London's black taxis

Chinese car maker Geely has bought Manganese Bronze, the maker of London's black taxis

The British manufacturer of the distinctive London cab has been acquired by a Chinese carmaker, securing more than 100 jobs.

Geely Holding Group said it bought Manganese Bronze Holdings out of bankruptcy court administration.

Geely, which acquired Sweden's Volvo Cars in 2010, said it paid just over £11m.

The group is one of a series of ambitious Chinese domestic carmakers that have acquired foreign technology and brands to speed their development.

Geely said it would resume manufacturing and service, including assembling the TX4 taxi at Manganese's factory in Coventry.

Geely had owned 20 per cent of Manganese before it entered administration last October. Manganese hit the wall after recalling 500 black cabs due to a steering box fault, which came on top of mounting losses at the group. It had failed to turn a profit since 2007.

Geely also makes its own car brands – Geely, Emgrand, Gleagle and Englon.

"We are determined to restore the fortunes of this totemic marque," said Li Shufu, chairman of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, in a statement.

Geely pledged to retain the group's 107 staff and existing manufacturing site in Coventry, although 156 jobs have already been axed since Manganese called in administrators.

Geely said it would resume Manganese's manufacturing and service "on broadly the same basis" as before the company went into administration, which it confirmed would include assembling the boxy, black TX4 taxi at its plant in Coventry.

Geely bought its first stake in Manganese in 2006 and the two established a manufacturing joint venture in China.

The deal was welcomed by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

He said: "I am 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 recognisable vehicle synonymous with London."

Geely said it was "confident" of being able to create new jobs and plans new taxi models with improved energy efficiency, while it is also looking at launching into the private hire market.

Shufu said the firm has "ambitious plans" for the business.

"Despite its recent difficulties, we have long believed that the company and the 'black cab' have huge potential," he added.

Manganese, which traces its roots back to the 19th century as a maker of ship propellers, was thrown into turmoil last autumn when it discovered a defect with new steering boxes in its TX4 models, which were introduced in production at its Coventry factory late last February.

The group was forced to suspend production and repair and replace all affected models, but said all the cabs which were recalled are now fixed and back on the road.

Its London Taxi arm was already suffering amid a consumer spending slowdown and increased rivalry from competitors, such as Eco City Vehicles' Mercedes Vito taxi, and Manganese had been loss-making for the past four years.

The group's London Taxi Company division makes about 2,700 cabs a year and has produced more than 100,000 since it started in 1948.

Its newest model, the TX4, was launched in October 2006.

Following today's takeover, Geely chief financial officer Daniel Li will become chairman of the Geely UK and Peter Johansen, formerly group finance director of Manganese Bronze, will be appointed executive vice president of the Black Cab operation.

While the holding company will be known as Geely UK, the new owner said it will retain the London Taxi International brand.

Unite union regional officer Peter Coulson said: "Geely's decision to buy the London Taxi Company and to keep production in Coventry is a testament to the skills of the workforce that build the iconic black cab.

"Without the Coventry base the vehicle would have lost its unique character. Unite have been in constructive talks with Geely and we look forward to a strong working relationship."

Japan's Nissan Motor is also due to launch its own taxi in Britain.

"I am not sure why Geely would get itself into such a deal ... the black cab is too British to win mass appeal anywhere, not even in China," said John Zeng, Asia Pacific director for consultancy LMC Automotive.

"The best hope for Geely is to move the production line to China, cut costs and sell it back to London."

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