London Taxis are as British as bowler hats and Big Ben. But the latest models coming off this new assembly line are unlikely to ever touch an English road.
At a sprawling factory in the lush green suburbs of Shanghai, young Chinese workers are busily gearing up for full-scale production of one of Britain's most iconic vehicles. It's part of an odd alliance that aims to give the distinctive black cab a greater presence outside its namesake city.
London Taxi International, which will continue to build nine out 10 cabs used in Britain at a factory in Coventry, England, couldn't grow production at its small-scale, high-cost plant. So it turned to a partner — and to China — as a way to drive overseas expansion.
"To say the writing was on the wall would be pushing it a bit too far. But you do need to make progress within the automotive industry," said Paul Stowe, a British auto executive who is overseeing the joint venture between Britain's Manganese Bronze Holdings PLC, owner of London Taxi International, and Geely Group Holdings, one of China's biggest independent automakers.
The venture is bearing fruit already, Stowe said, with agreements signed to sell 6,000 London Taxis from the Chinese factory, more than double the Coventry plant's annual output.