Blog : Manganese Bronze – the insider’s view

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Matt ‘Insider’

lti-tx4-01

I was one of the 156 made redundant by LTI in October, so hope I can throw in my penny’s worth …

A lot has been said about the TX4 needing to be updated. This is very true, it was starved of development cash and the number of R&D staff at LTI had already been reduced by over 60% over a two year period – the directors actually converted their department into a plush new directors suite! How ironic.

To the public, it did appear that LTI were looking at new, greener drivetrains – especially the much publicised hydrogen fuel cell TX4. This was a sham, they did practically nothing in developing this, but some creative accounting ensured that government grants were passed between the ‘pioneering’ development partners. Hydrogen will not work anyway, not without the fuelling infrastructure – just ask Honda.

LTI directors had a golden opportunity to save the company as far back as two years ago, in the shape of a fully engineered electric TX4 developed by a Dutch company. Electrification is one of the few things that is in the TX4′s favour. With its old fashioned ladder chassis, it can carry twice the battery power of a ‘modern’ monocoque vehicle. Hence why the eTX4s operating in Amsterdam had a range of 250km, more than enough for a taxi shift – and a fast charge time of under two hours.

So what did the exhalted leader of LTI do when he discovered that a third party had developed this sure fire winner for him? Nothing. For fear of losing hydrogen grant monies and worried that LTI’s Chinese partners would ‘steal’ the technology (plus a blinkered ‘it’ll never take off’ attitude), the CEO of LTI never even got of his well paid butt to view the car. Now, the chance is gone.

It would be easy for me to appear as a bitter ex-employee, but it’s more than that. Some of the decisions taken over the past 6 years by the Manganese Bronze and LTI boards have been bordering on criminal negligence. It’s no surprise either that of the 156 people made redundant in October, not a single one was a director. Despite the administrators running the company from that date, all directors remain in employment to this day.

Anyway, enough of my rant. What happens next? Geely will buy out the remains of LTI. NOT because they want to develop the TX4. All they want to do is ensure that they are not the ones seen to have killed the iconic London Cab. They will produce it in China and use the UK operation as a sales arm only. The reason why? They want to break into the UK general car market and don’t need negative PR at the outset, so they’ll ‘save’ the company and build a sales operation with a view to car sales, not taxis.

In reality, there are no assets to sell off – the Coventry site was sold and leased back years ago, so no other asset strippers would be interested. The numbers don’t make sense to any other party to manufacture the cabs, the development cash required is just too great.

I’ll leave it at that as I’ve just realised how much I’d typed – sorry for boring you all. What happens next to the London Taxi market is a very interesting one – although I know for a fact that it’s being protected using some pretty underhand measures at present. Boris is desperately trying to keep the current conditions in place in the hope that the London Cab will return – but I don’t think it will, and the market will legally have to open up.

The TX4 had the potential to be great. Great concept with a great workforce behind it – but it was put through a slow death by incompetent board direction. You cannot just blame the Chinese – they saw an opportunity and took it. Unfortunately, the blame lies very much closer to home.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
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81 Comments

  1. Very interesting. I always believed the future was in gas power. Very clean in terms of pollution and the lowest Co2 fossil fuel. The cabbies would be more willing to buy a car driven by a modified petrol turbo engine, than one full of complex electronics and batteries.

    Tokyo, Hong Kong and many continental cities have shifted to gas for public transport. All buses in California are gas-powered.

    I found our about the Merc Vito project quite early on and was asked to keep quiet because they feared, if the project leaked out, the rules would be changed overnight to ban rear steering. Underhand indeed.

  2. Like most British run companies, greedy, blind management, disinterested, government that is disinterested in UK manufacturing or exports and high running costs renders them dead, sooner or later… Sad but true..

  3. Nice to hear from someone at the company’s viewpoint, and it makes unsurprising reading really, how bumbling managers destroyed the company

  4. Very interesting article – I hope things work out for Matt and all the others who unfortunately were made redundant.

    A couple of observations – if a company is in administration it can be cheaper to keep a director on the payroll for a few months than pay a very large redundancy payment.

    As for the future with Geely there is potential for them to use the TX4 as a very cost effective way of giving them brand presence in the UK. There have been a few articles in the press suggesting that ‘Made in England’ is to become a very fashionable brand this year and next (as shown by fashion companies such as Mulberry “reshoring”) therefore the opportunity for them to use “Made in England by Geely” could be powerful. Not only could they be seen as not killing an Icon but nurturing it.

    If I was Geely my business plan would be to:
    – Introduce direct management control
    – Look for a UK based contract manufacturer such as Envisage Group rather than maintain my own facility
    – Market like crazy with London cabbies (bit obvious)

    Wishful thinking maybe but this is an iconic product with potential.

  5. Hilton
    That’s nothing compared to what’s happening at the moment! As you’ll know, the only two cabs that meet the conditions of fitness at the moment are the TX4 and the Vito, but you can only buy a Vito at present because LTI are in administration. The Vito is £41950,a pretty expensive cab, but it has a current monopoly on the London market only because of it’s rear wheel steering to meet the 25 foot turning circle laid down in regulation 181. However, it’s the trade’s worst kept secret that most Euro4 Vitos have suffered from serious problems with their RWS. I know for a fact that many Vito drivers pull the fuses on the RWS and are therefore operating in London without meeting reg 181. A quick call to Transport for London made it clear that they knew of problems but seemed to be turning a blind eye because ‘if we took them off the road, there wouldn’t be any cabs to supply’. The supplier of the vehicle, KPM, appear to be fully aware of the problems and that cabbies have been pulling fuses. A call to VOSA confirmed that they knew of the issue too, but they will not force a recall as it’s not life threatening due to the RWS only operating at under 5mph. So, why? I suspect that regulation 181 is being kept in place in order in the hope that LTI get back into production. The London administration want to keep the ‘iconic’ London Black Cab, but it’ll never return to the levels it enjoyed in the past without massive investment – most cabbies have just had enough. Also, Vito driving cabbies don’t want a recall either – they’ve seen what happened when LTI had to pull 400+ cabs off the streets of London!
    It’s a ridiculous situation though and, even though every other major UK city has thrown out regulation 181 and opened up the market to other makes, it appears that London is digging it’s heels in. It can’t last though, there has already been a judicial review in Liverpool stating that the regulation is unjust and against a free market.
    It’ll end up going to court again and TfL will spend lots of taxpayers money fighting a fight they can’t win.
    Much as I hate to say it, the regulations will get overturned sooner or later and, unless a buyer is found for LTI with very deep R&D pockets, the TX4 will be fighting for it’s life again. A Chinese built TX4 without immediate development isn’t going to find many buyers in London, not given recent events.
    Personally, I can see only one solution that preserves the TX4. That would be an open market without reg 181 and a new class of ‘tourist taxis’ being created for set routes that have to be ‘iconic’ black cabs. That way, the public gets a competitive, greener, efficient and more modern taxi fleet and the tourists still have the opportunity of a tour in a historic black cab. Truth of the matter is, in it’s current underdeveloped state, the TX4 is heading towards museum exhibit status as I don’t see a new tier of taxis being viable.
    It’ll be interesting to see what happens – the competition is already circling and looking for a way in and I don’t think the powers that be will be able to stop them.
    It’s a sad situation, but things will develop in the near future.

  6. AndrewP
    Agree, market presence is what Geely are looking for. If they buy it out, their PR dept will spin it as them having rescued the brand……and then put it on the back shelf as they move into the UK car market.
    Appreciate that you need to keep some directors when in administration, but the directors can be laid off in exactly the same way when in administration ie as a compulsory redundancy and therefore only eligible for staturory redundancy payments, just like the rest of us were!
    I’m off to bed now, but look forward to hearing peoples views – and I’ll try and answer any questions as best I can.

  7. I for one won’t be too upset to see the demise of that vehicle, they were awful things to travel in. Shame another business has gone under as a result of underinvestment though, but alas, that’s the British way.

  8. Rob B
    Looking at the TX4 as it is at present, it’s just no match for the Vitos and Peugeot E7s of this world – either from a driver or passenger point of view. Put bluntly, the only positives in its favour are purely subjective – the shape, the history and strange affection that it garners. Looked at objectively, it just doesn’t stack up without a huge investment to improve driver comfort (it’s VERY cramped up front), ride quality and emissions. The big issue remains quality though – hate to say it, but the quality is just unacceptable in this day and age. There will be diehard London cabbies who’ll want nothing else – and that is perhaps a good thing. However, the London authorities (and the London population) will have to remove their rose tinted glasses and look for better, more modern and cleaner alternatives to do the bulk of the work – or hope that a new owner invests heavily.
    Don’t get me wrong, I really want to see is survive – but, knowing what I do, I just can’t see a viable future for it. Geely will snap up what’s left and develop things in the UK for their car business – the TX4 will be allowed to stagnate further because there’s just no volume there without massive further investment.

  9. Reading Matt’s story, it’s almost as if 4 of the guys from MGR moved to Coventry to ‘leverage their extensive industry expertise’ at LTI. It’s the same story with a different name over the door, isn’t it?

  10. @8
    I couldn’t put it better myself, Matt.

    It’s time to develop an all-new vehicle from the ground up, fit for the 21st Century and that is acceptable to driver and passenger alike. By all means take some styling cues from old London cabs but that’s where the similarity should stop.

    Above all, it should be designed and built in Britain from quality British (or, at least, European) parts and materials.

    The ‘new Routemaster’ bus is proof that we can do it; so why not the London cab?

  11. Magnus
    I’d love to see that happen, but reality dictates that it wouldn’t stack up financially. The cost of designing a ground up car that would meet all current safety criteria for a market of, at best, 3000 units a year would mean either no manufacturer at all or, as we’ve got at present, a cottage industry taxi.
    The market should be opened up and an updated TX4 should have to find it’s own place in it. It does have a place, but it shouldn’t be protected any longer by the antiquated turning circle requirement of Reg 181. The authorities are heading for a PR disaster if they continue to protect the London market to keep a vehicle that isn’t even being produced at present. if the turning circle is so important, why are they turning a blind eye to cars not being able to acheive it? I want to see LTI survive, but I’ve taken my blinkers off and studied the facts. It’s been living in a protected environment that will not last much longer.

  12. What a shame.

    However, it seems to be that the main USP is that it *looks* like an FX4.

    Could Nissan not put out a retro version of the NV200, similar to the Mitsuoka treatment of the Micra / March?

  13. @12
    The TX4 is more than just a classic looking cab, it’s the direct successor to the FX4, with much of the final Fairway chassis under the skin.

    Which means it’s old fashioned, in both a positive sense and a negative sense…

  14. I do not believe that Geely arte after using the virtually unknown brand of LTI as a way to get presence in the UK, given that they own Volvo cars and own 50% of the Volvo brand name.

  15. Hi Graham
    It’s true, it may look obvious for them to use the Volvo name to get into the UK, but they would risk the reputation and standing of the Volvo brand, by association, if it went wrong. Better to use the existing contacts and infrastructure of LTI in and build it. They were already half way down that road and agreement was reached with LTI to be their UK distributors.
    Far less risk as they’ll pick up LTI by just writing off the debt owed (they’re the biggest creditor). They start off with a positive spin on things and, if things go wrong (which the cynic in me believes it will) then they haven’t lost anything.

  16. Could they use a brand that is associated with Volvo, but isn’t Volvo.

    Kind of their own ‘Skoda’?

    How about Daf?

  17. I’m struggling to see how LTI would help Geely expand in the UK, when LTI will only have a small distribution network, mainly concentrated on big cities, used to selling to a specialist market.

    It’s like buying TVR (RIP) or Lotus (nearly RIP) to get access to the their distribution networks, to sell £8000 hatchbacks.

  18. Hi
    Before the collapse, and without any promotion, LTI had a database of over 200 applicants for the Geely franchise. A lot of work has already be done one this.
    The actual work involved in getting it off the ground would be relatively small. What Geely got was a ready made logistics, parts and warranty setup that could be tailored to the size of the business and that was already integrated with their systems. The idea was to establish about 40 initial independant sites, possibly dual franchised two car showroom sized. The interest was amazing, the work involved minimal (relative to setting up a stand alone Geely UK operation).

  19. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of potential Geely dealers were the smaller ex Skoda outlets who have been forced out by high franchise fees

  20. The last M.D at LTI used to be a senior marketing manager at Land Rover. I briefly worked for him 25 years ago – he was a nasty piece of work. Sounds like nothing has changed!!

  21. Matt, a sad sorry tale of woe. It must have been horrible working for a firm you knew was a ticking time bomb.

    What were the Geely top brass like then? Did the steering fiasco actually turn out to be a finely engineered way of gently turning the patient’s (LTI) life support off?

  22. The British disease, over and over.Desperately sad to see yet another iconic brand so arrogantly driven into the ground so senselessly. There seems to be this tendency to promote the kind of simian, aggressive, yet ultimately clueless self-serving clodhopper to high managerial positions, so that no sense can be heard over the trumpeting of male egos- who’s only moments of quiet reflection are in contemplating his own comfortable exit strategy.

    I wish those made redundant all the best. I’ve been out of work for quite a while and it isn’t at all easy out there.

    Damn them for not investigating the Dutch electric proposal.

  23. @Matt,

    I think you should consider ‘blowing the whistle’- especially if public funding has been misappropriated into non-existant hydrogen research.

  24. @23 What difference would that make?we give several millions in aidto countries with nuclear weapons and space programmes-should we not start there?

  25. @18
    But Geely own Volvo, surely that would be the obvious way of expanding around the world, never mind the UK???

    Volvo is a major international car ‘brand’, LTI might be iconic, but are/were a small specialist minnow.

  26. Just in case Geely flop in the UK, it would be safer for it to be associated with a minnow like LTi/Manganese than a big boy like Volvo don’t you think?

  27. Just got in, sorry for slow response to all the comments, but thanks for all of them.
    Yorkie, you’re right – if I remember correctly, there were several smaller Skoda dealers interested, along with several old Rover/MG dealers, Suzuki and quite a few Saab. They all knew the Chinese were coming and wanted in at the ground floor – similar to the Japanese arriving a few decades ago.
    Simon, who was the guy you worked for? I’ve heard scary stories about several!!!!
    Andrew, Yep – it was like waiting for The Titanic to hit the ice, not a good environment to work in. To be fair to the Chinese top brass, they were very supportive and tried to help – but I think they were actually surprised by what they’d got themselves in to. I don’t actually believe that they wanted, or engineered, things to turn out as they did. As far as I can see, all the major poor decision making took place in Coventry. Unfortunately, the Chinese actually left LTI directors to take the lead on most things and it did look like the blind leading the blind at times! There’s no doubt that the Chinese had great stregths – flexibility in production and quick decision making, to name but two – but they actually came out of this looking rather naive. However, I think they’re taking a more strategic approach to the situation now. Think they’ll buy it up, but don’t think they have long term plans for the TX4, the numbers aren’t big enough for them to invest further.
    Chris, agree entirely. The complacency was tangible – they had an icon, a near monopoly and so thought they just had to sit back and feather their nests. The lack of interest in the electric TX4 that had been handed to them on a plate for nothing was moronic, one of the worst decisions I’ve witnessed. Even if they’d publicised it, they could have secured investment. Boris wants electric taxis, Boris wants TX4s – but let’s not even tell Boris we have one developed!!
    Tigger, Thanks – just telling it as it was……
    Chris/Francis, Would be very difficult to prove anything and it’s too late now. Wish I’d done something at the time, but I’d be a millionaire if I could enjoy the benefits of hindsight.
    I’ve been hearing about a few more developments today and there are going to be things happening in the London market very soon, if my sources are correct. Will keep you posted when I know anything for definite…….

  28. @Matt,

    Its not too late- tell what you know to an investigative journalist who has the skills to investigate (preferably not tabloid- maybe Panorama as they have been tarnished of late over Savillgate so have something to prove). You don’t have to have all the evidence yourself- they’ll do the digging. And post MG Rover, if the bosses have been doing a P4 there will be an almighty stink about it. If what you say is true then there are bound to be others who can verify it.

  29. Hi Chris
    Not really my intention to start something like that, and most of what I know could be dismissed as hearsay.
    What’s more interesting to me at the moment is why Transport for London seem intent on defending the turning circle regulation 181 that gave LTI a near monopoly for years and which has now gifted the MB Vito taxi a temporary monopoly – a vehicle that has been beset with rear wheel steering problems. There are Vitos working at London at the moment with the RWS disabled because of reliability problems, this I know. It’s an issue that appears to be known to all the trade and the authorities. So, the only two vehicles that qualify as London cabs, on account of them having sub 25 foot turning circles, both suffer from known steering issues! All other major UK cities have removed reg 181 but retained all other conditions. Why not London? There have even been court cases in which judges have made city councils remove it as it is against European law. Is it just because Boris doesn’t want to be the Mayor that oversees the death of the iconic TX4? Or is there something else underhand afoot? Now that’s something that a journalist could get their teeth into – especially if City Hall continue to try and fight an unwinnable case with taxpayer’s money. Might do a bit more digging myself on that one, it’s always interested me.
    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see the end of the TX4 either – but it should be able to stand on it’s own four wheels. Lack of competition in this market is stiffling development of greener, more efficient transport in London. Boris needs to make up his mind – does he actually want cleaner air, or does he want dirty cabs that can turn in two or three feet less than more modern rivals? Or is he happy forcing an expensive product on London cabbies that has known steering issues? Choice drives development and improves standards, antiquated regulations do not and it seems farsical to spend money defending them to protect a vehicle that isn’t even in current production (the ‘iconic’ TX4). Now if an ambitious young journalist would like to talk to me about this, I’d be happy to discuss what I know in a bit more detail. There’s more to this than first meets the eye, me thinks.

  30. What a shame.

    However, it seems to be that the main USP is that it *looks* like an FX4.

    Could Nissan not put out a retro version of the NV200, similar to the Mitsuoka treatment of the Micra / March

    The NV200 will be the basis of the ‘New York City’ mandated medallion/yellow taxi vehicle. It will have a gasoline engine, not a hybrid, despite that the ones making up half of the taxis in NYC are popular due to lower fuel costs. Many in NYC don’t like the mandated Nissan taxi to be uses as not made in the USA (it will be made in Mexico), parts will be expensive, it will mean more dealer only repair. Then again this is a vehicle that is cheaper to build as based on an existing higher production vehicle.
    Yes, ditch the turing radius rule that exists, consider hybrids (fuel efficient without the issues of diesel).

  31. If they relifed the old FX4’s with LPG(a friend developed such an engine from the existing diesel) and you had ex racehorse jockey’s driving them you could still have the nostalgia of a london Taxi and no complaints of a cramped driving enviroment.
    As for whistle blowing re: grant monies,forget it the funders dont want to lose face for being swerved,the scabs whom had thier rake-off will have plausable deniability.
    You cant quote P4’s pension fund without also quoting PWC’s £33 million fee for a few bods turning up at longbridge and pushing pens.

  32. Good Morning!
    I like the idea of a retro FX4 look-a-like NV200 Leon, that would be pretty cool – especially as the standard NV200 is, in my opinion, one of the ugliest vehicles ever to hit the streets. Doubt it will happen though, as it all comes back to the fact that we’re talking about a very small market segment and the numbers wouldn’t justify the investment. Can see the benefits of LPG too, although I’m not a great fan myself -don’t know why, totally irrational!!
    On the subject of the NV200, it was meant to be coming to market in ‘early 2013’ according to Nissan. I’m reliably informed that it’s going to be late 2013 at best. Why the delay? Surprise, surprise…..their having issues with the twin universal joint front hubs developed to meet reg 181. As for the electric version that they told Boris was almost ready….try ‘at least two years away’, that’s nearer the truth.
    PWC seems to have struck it rich again, they’re administrators for LTI as well. Some very strange decisions were made about who stayed and who went, but the main focus seems to be in spinning things out as long as possible whilst keeping the meter running. I wonder what the final fare will be?
    Of to do a bit of digging this morning…..and not of the garden variety!

  33. The ability to ‘turn of a sixpence’ is very useful though, you can hail a taxi on one side of the road, knowing that it can do an easy U-turn and go the other way, instead of having to do a slow 3 point turn (holding up the traffic) or going around the block to face the right way.

  34. Agree with that, it was always a great thing to be capable of, but it’s become far less important over the years as London has become a maze of one way streets. Given this, I don’t see that the current benefits out-weigh the lower emissions, better wheel chair access, lower cost and greater comfort of more modern vehicles. Just a question of priorities really.

  35. Excellent article from someone in the know.

    The TX4 is iconic and is so recognisable on the streets compared to the Peugeot or Mercedes cabs plying the streets of London.

    It’s a shame that the Chinese will end up acquiring the remains of the company as China is slow and incompetent when it comes to manufacture/marketing. You only have to look at the 7 years of wasted opportunity from the Chinese owners of MG to see what happens.

    If only a major European car manufacturer could acquire the brand and develop this into a world class product with British manufacture and export around the world.

  36. @2 – Agree with your analysis with regards inept management, but how are the government to blame? If they shovelled money at the company the same inept managers would piss it up against the wall and be back in 12 months looking for more. If anything the government in the form of Boris Johnston are doing all they can to manipulate the London Taxi market in LTI’s favour.

  37. @37 You are right in what you are saying but for all his charisma, Boris is a buffoon.The TX4 is a low volume vehicle,why wasnt it brought under the auspices of the licencing authority and manufacture,maintain and sell the vehicles?

  38. Hi Paul
    Thanks for your comments, but not sure where I’ve suggested that the government are to blame, they’re not. I agree with you though, they’d been protected by City Hall for too long and the lack of competition made the company lazy, complacent and on a downward spiral. The company wasn’t bright enough to see this, didn’t develop the product and….well, we all know what happened next.

  39. Hi Francis
    Don’t you think Boris and his pals have enough of an issue running City Hall without giving them a toy like a cab factory to run? I’d love to see that…..

  40. @40,i wouldnt want a tool like that near it,there must be someone capable of running an operation like that.The whole UK transport infrastructure model is a disgrace,Transport for Greater Manchester have given us trams we didnt want or need (but someone gets kickbacks)on the “big Bang” phase,Thales want an extra £42 million off the taxpayer on top of the £23 million it had in the agreed contract for the signalling system-how can that be? the goverment and transport chiefs do not have the capacity to run a bath let alone a modest transport network,so off topic a bit but i would gladly let the chinese run LTi.

  41. I don’t think bus companies are too happy at having the Borismaster forced on them either, thanks to its oddball layout, huge size, and zero use outside London, plus the requirement of 2 person crews, as every other city ditched dual doorways a while back. It might be ok as a park & ride bus though

  42. What happened to the good old days when a leader of a failed business would fall on his own sword? Are you seriously saying that out of all the people made redundant, none was at director level? That’s scandalous as it was them that led the company to administration. I atake it the administrators are running the show now, so what are the board getting paid to do?

  43. Rob
    People can make their own minds up on that – but to be fair, there are a few good guys in that group who should have clear consciences. However, the ridiculous truth of the matter is that there were already too many chiefs and not enough indians when they were actually making cars!! How the hell this size of board being kept on during administration can be justified, I will never understand. It’s actually the only part of the whole process that make’s me angry. Each month when the big boss picks up his pay cheque and sees his pension topped up, that alone could have paid for a dozen productive workers to be kept on and turn around the the recalled cabs quicker, or a similar number of research engineers etc etc. No idea what the current collective cost of the Manganese and LTI boards is, but it probably couldn’t be objectively described as ‘value for money’. As I say, I’m talking about a collective cost here, there are some good guys within that collective that are worth their money. The ones that are not will know who they are, but will still hang on regardless, without even considering reaching for their sword…..
    As for what they’re getting paid to do…. judging by the amount of activity on Linkedin as they search for their next roles, not a lot!!

  44. Boris and TfL have brought in strict emissions rules, forcing old FX4s off the streets, which is a stimulous for the new taxi market, so they’ve done their bit.

    As for the Borismaster, the intention is that they stay in London. London is large and important enough to buy buses for its need, and not to provide cheap secondhand buses for the rest of the UK.

  45. @Yorkie

    TBF, I think Wrightbus are extremely chuffed at getting the TFL contract for the new routemasters.

    I often see their double deckers come down the motorway to the ferry, all sorts of Liveries – First, Lothian, even Hong Kong. Looking forward to spotting a Routemaster.

  46. Sadly Will, having experienced Wrighbus ‘quality’, after about 5 years service, these will need a massive overhaul, and like Red Ken’s burndis, are another tax payer funded white elephant. And hybrid buses are not that more economical than their diesel counterparts either

  47. @ Yorkie:

    Sadly the designers at Wrighbus do not consider passenger comfort in their quest to display form. I regularly travel on a Volvo B9 Wright Gemini Eclipse (a double-decker to those not familiar with them) with high-back seats on a long distance route. Despite me being of average height, the height of the seats means they offer no comfort or head and neck support. They definitely have a thing or two to learn from East Lancashire Coachworks when it comes to delivering passenger comfort!

  48. Buses are now accountant designed, made from the cheapest materials, from the lowest bidder. Comfort and durability are not in accountants vocabulary, as fitting cheap parts, means money from spare parts sales when they break

  49. INteresting comments about LPG. I had to drive through London Last Year, paying the “low emission” charge to bring my clean lpg car into London, and then share it with hundreds of diesel service vehicles. Why is the LEZ charge not used to fund conversions for all srevice vehicles (large diesel engines can be converted at a cost – lower compression ratio, add an spark ignition system) Of course the truth is the money raised from the LEZ has nothing to do with increasing air quality, just another tax !

  50. @48 David 3500
    The seats in your Wright bus would have been specified by the operator, so it’s unfair to blame the manufacturer. Wrights don’t make seats anyway…

    Wright vehicles generally have a good reputation for quality, the Eclipse Gemini (as a passenger) seems a well built product. There is pressure to reduce the weight of vehicles, in order to reduce fuel consumption, which isn’t unreasonable.

  51. Autocar hoofed it round Nutts Corner circuit

    http://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/new-bus-london-driven

    Compared to the old Leopards with hard plastic seats and leaky windows (2 of which are now with Pinewood, as seen in Children of Men and St Trinians 2…) that were my high school fleet of the late 90s, and even some of the Stagecoach rural services in Fife in the 2000s, the Wrightbus Volvo double deckers are comfortable enough.

    Not being a bus driver, can’t comment about quality myself, though with it being a newer fleet than the 30/40 year old Leopards and Tigers they replaced, I see fewer breakdowns of Translink buses these days.

  52. @ Mikey C:

    But surely items such as seats are actually designed by Wright as part of the various options they can offer to prospective operators i.e. standard low-level seats or higher back seats? And surely such items are then evaluated in a prototype design form before they are farmed out to a sub-contractor to make them as and when required?

    From a passenger’s perspective, four and a half years after the Wright Gemini Eclipses were introduced on the long haul route I travel on, the interior does still feel well put together with materials that are durable and easy to maintain. Just a shame about the seat comfort though.

  53. The seats are normally Italian made Lazzerini’s, which have very little padding, and the latest fad is fake leather seats (vinyl), with the same lack of padding, and after about 12 months, show the wear & tear quicker than what the old Holdsworth moquette does. Wright’s quality is actually quite poor, especially when it comes to water leaks on bonded glazing buses, which seem to be worse on the single decks, and general electrical issues, and on the new Streetlite, the rear axle design has issues, as they try to part company from the underframe. And the least said about their cock up white elephant FTR the better…

  54. The seats are normally Italian made Lazzerini’s, which have very little padding, and the latest fad is fake leather seats (vinyl), with the same lack of padding, and after about 12 months, show the wear & tear quicker than what the old Holdsworth moquette does. Wright’s quality is actually quite poor, especially when it comes to water leaks on bonded glazing buses, which seem to be worse on the single decks, and general electrical issues, and on the new Streetlite, the rear axle design has issues, as they try to part company from the underframe. And the least said about their cock up white elephant FTR the better…

  55. I always thought that a bus was just a bus, but I was obviously wrong. Always interesting to hear about things that you’ve always just taken for granted, only to find that the same sort of issues are present in that business sector too. Is there anything that we’re really good at, real world beaters? Or are we just too complacent about what we have that we pick it to pieces, even though it’s not too bad relative what is available elsewhere?

  56. I read with interest this article and TfL’s effective imposition of a monopoly surrounding Taxi purchasing. Up here in the city I reside in (Glasgow) there is no such monopoly and drivers can chose from Fairways, TX4’s and even the odd Metrocab as well as Merc’s and the E7 based on both Peugoet and FIAT chassis. The most common new one seems to be E7 now although having the major supplier based in the city (Allied Vehicles) may have influenced this.

    As someone living in the “provinces” however NB4L has really frustrated me. Why London has always felt it needed a bespoke double-decker to me seems an opinion from the era of RT’s and Routemasters. When TfL announced that Wrightbus had won the completion I cannot say I was surprised as I always felt TfL would was going to give it to Wrightbus irrespective. Seems I’m not alone in that opinion….

    http://omnibuses.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/reprise-or-riposte.html?m=1

    To be honest I feel that someone needs to have a look at TfL. No other government department (or quango) could impose terms on private individuals. Could you imagine if the local council said yes you could drive on our roads as long as you accept the car we give you? It amounts to the same thing…..

  57. LT suffered from ‘not invented here’ syndrome when it came to the DMS to be honest. I think it is time that the whole TfL quango was wound up, and everyone was left to just get on with it. It would save tens of millions a year, especially if they started charging for under 16’s again.

  58. In Greater Manchester buses run empty most of the day every five minutes,pulling up/in causing congestion,having little interest in them im wondering are they still subsidised?
    The trouble with transort quango’s is they are a self interest/self serving group-i remember the GMpte £30 million advertising campaign to lead us blind into toll roads in Manchester,thank god the public gave them the biggest kick in the bollocks they ever had,the no campaign cost chickenfeed in comparison.

  59. Some things don’t change. Wasn’t Manganese Bronze a major contributor to the collapse of motorcycling manufacturing in the UK in the 1960/70s?

  60. 63. Manganese took over LTI when the previous owner BSA went bust – is that what you mean?

    64. Hadn’t heard that one, just the old story that they have had to change the engine up to a 1.9 which makes their consumption figures worse.

  61. I’m hearing the same very strong rumours about the Nissan failing a COF test – very interesting!! Also hear that TfL are very close to a re-think of the London COF. They always very protective of their specific conditions (ie the turning circle), but it doesn’t appear that there’s any appetite for a fight as newcomers try and open up the market. Probably a good thing, what with the continued uncertainty (what are the administrators doing?) over LTI’s future and the increasing concerns over the Vito’s rear wheel steering. If, as is widely predicted, Geely take over LTI and build soley in China, then the TX4 becomes a far less relevant product. Already seen as under-developed and of low quality, I can’t see a ‘made in China’ sticker driving huge numbers of cabbies into their showrooms. Equally, the Vito’s reputation is taking a hammering at present – the RWS issues persist along with rumours of a large number operating in London with it disconnected – a serious breach of the London COF.
    All a bit of a mess really……..

  62. Good, hope the Nissan has failed because it’s the ugliest van/car/taxi I have ever seen. Were does that get us tho? TX4 black cab is over priced, dirty and unreliable – and Chinese and you can’t buy one. The Vito is mega money and has known faults with its rear steering. What are we meant to buy? Scrap some of the old regs and make them more sensible and relevant. Give us a decent choice of taxi.

  63. Hi Guys,
    I would just like to add a short comment.
    I, along with many others, would absolutely hate to see the loss of our iconic London Taxi. With the influx of minicabs driving EVERY other type of vehicle – it is only our traditional Taxi that the public (incl. tourists) easily recognise. I know of many that have refused Vitos – who wants to sit in the back of ‘a van’? Plus especially at night on the side of the road these are often unlicensed cabs – to our foreign visitors or elderly or poorly sighted these are easily mistaken for ‘real’ Taxis. I understand they are not the best things to drive but come on guys, lets not forget what we’re fighting for!!!!!
    Thats it, comment done with, good luck for the future. x

  64. The LTI administrators are due to issue a press release this morning, should be interesting…….
    As far as keeping the old style TX4 taxis is concerned Jill, I agree. It would be a real shame if they went. The problem is that if they were to maintain some form of monopoly or restricted market, then it has to be merited. Unfortunately, the vehicle has been under-developed and is a long way from modern acceptable standards in driver comfort, fuel consumption and quality. If that can all be addressed, great. However, with such a small potential market, it is doubtful whether Geely will pump enough money into development to sort things. That being the case, it just cannot justify benefiting from such market restrictions.
    I agree with you, it would be a shame to see it go – but it has to be able to stand on it’s own feet as a product, something which neither of the two approved London taxis currently do. If the market restrictions continue, both manufacturers should be forced to invest – but that will just make both models even more expensive.

  65. Hi Matt,
    I would like to ask what are your thoughts on the Nissan NV200 taxi as competition for the models from Manganese Bronze? From what I know NV200 is much smaller, lighter and probably more fuel efficient, and its price is going to be £32-35k(similar to TX4).

  66. Hi Jason
    NV200 looks like a pretty good package, although I personally think it’s one of the ugliest vehicles ever made! That aside, it’ll definitely be vastly more fuel efficient than the TX4. However, it is a lot smaller and will have the same problems as the TX4 in accomodating some newer, larger wheelchairs (there were rumours circulating that it had failed it’s COF test because of poor wheelchair access) and w/chairs will be carried rear-facing which isn’t so good. Think you’re over-estimating the price, it’ll come in nearer the £20K mark, so a big saving over the TX4 and Vito. There are two major problems though, as I see it. First, it’s not going to use a Nissan engine as all the cabbies are hoping, it’s going to use a 1.5 Renault turbo diesel. Will that really be reliable, strong or powerful enough to take on the job? I have serious doubts, asdo many drivers. Secondly, I believe it’s using a twin universal joint steering system to get round the London COF turning circle requirements. It’s common knowledge that they’ve had real issues with this. Given that TX4s were pulled off the streets because of faulty (and extremely old fashioned) steering boxes and that Vitos are on the streets of London right now with the RWS disengaged because of reliability issues (and TfL know this!!), isn’t it time that this antiquated rule was removed? Do we need a third entrant into the market that has another steering design compromise – have no doubt, that’s what all three are! I’d rather see the Nissan come to an open market without the dodgy steering solution, but with a stronger engine. Without the cost of the steering mods, they’d be able to put a better package to market at the same cost. It’s pretty obvious that the turning circle regulation has only been there to protect the TX4, but it needs to justify its place in an open and fair market. COF relaxation doesn’t mean the end of the TX4, many London cabbies will still want to drive nothing else – that’s fair, but give them choice.
    So, I see the NV200 as a welcome addition, but it could be far, far better if it didn’t have to jump through legislative hoops to get to market. I shall now get off my soap box………..

  67. I bought a new TX4 in February 2012. One of the reasons being the 3 year/100,000 mile warranty. That warranty is now null and void.
    There is even more of an irony here, as I work in an area that permits saloon cars,I could have had a more economical, reliable and comfortable vehicle at less than half the price of my “dinosaur” TX4.
    Other taxi drivers in my home town think I am mad getting 38 grand in debt for a vehicle no other driver would buy by choice. The public here don’t like them either and will walk past me on the rank to get in a modern saloon car. I now hate the bloody thing! 22 m.p.g. £460 annual road tax and a cramped driving position that is more like a torture chamber. It is now worth about half of the outstanding finance left on it! My nearest service agent is over 70 miles away.
    These vehicles are an absolute disgrace and should be consigned to the history books as they are unfit for purpose.

  68. Hi Matt. I will try to make my coments as fair as I can.
    I have already said quite a bit on this subject in previous posts when it was announced that the company was to be put into administration.
    I worked for this company for 10 years ,leaving in August 2010. Working at the Leeds service site mainly but , working at Manchester and breifly at the factory in Coventry. In that time I have seen quite a few changes . The main customer gripe coming when this product lost it’s bullet proof reliability due in part to the choice of power plant. When the company made the move away from the Nissan engine we all felt in Leeds that it was a backwards step. The TX11 with the Duratorque engine lost us a boat load of customers. Timing chain tensioner and dual-mass flywheel failures of the engine coupled to the other problems just pushed the customers down the converted van route.The TX4 with it’s reliability issues and under bonnet fire problem just made things worse if that were posible.
    Low volumes of sales even with a Chinese partner was not going to do much especially with the quality of the parts being used. Geely should be really chuffed with thier efforts in how the company was finally put into a position where they are today
    As for the opposition , well as I have said before. A coverted van is just that. From the owner / driver point of view the cost is considerably less but , at what price to the customer ? If you are ever in one of these so called cabs and, you sit in the back of one . Just see how much room there is between you , the back of the seat and, more importantly the rear doors. How much protection do those rear doors give with a rear end shunt ? My guess is presious little. The wheel chair ramp extension… Just look at the way the ramp sticks out from the extremities of the bodywork and watch your ankles the next time one squeezes past you when you are at the curb edge.The partition that keeps the drunken nutters out there away from the poor driver. Well chocolate fire guard springs to mind
    I know which vehicle I would prefer to be in if it was involved in an accident and it would not be a coverted van !
    The TX4 is a very strong vehicle, yes its got it’s faults but, with the correct amount of funding and with a bit of vision it can survive but, only if the new owners have the passion to do it. If they are anything like the current owners of the MG badge I can’t see it happening.

  69. Thanks for that John, very interesting…….
    The big problem that it keeps coming back to is essential investment. Unfortunately, the numbers involved just do not justify the level of investment needed, it really is as simple as that. It is a shame, as I like the concept of the TX4 – but there are just two many issues to be addressed and they’ll cost too much……..

  70. @73 Bill

    I cna understand drivers not enjoying the cramped cab of the TX4, but as a passenger I have no complaints, most London Taxis tend to have only 1 or 2 people in the back, and it’s a very pleasant place to be, when compared with ordinary cars

  71. Firstly, this is great news for the workers in Coventry and should be welcomed by everyone. However….
    I found it a bit surprising that the announcement from the administrators included a ‘reaction’ from King Boris and that they also chose to thank Transport for London for their support in putting the deal together. Strange. Could it be that they (and Geely) managed to get reassurances from TfL and Boris that the London Conditions Of Fitness would not change before Geely signed on the dotted line? Removing the turning circle element, as TfL had been widely expected to do, would have effectively killed the deal. However, if Boris and TfL have made such promises then they’ve lined themselves up for a heap of trouble as they may well face legal action from other manufacturers who want to enter the market. If they’ve made such promises, they’ll have done so knowing that they are promises that they just can’t keep. There have already been court rulings in favour of the manufacturers elsewhere in the UK and they will be left with lots of questions to answer. They could either renage on their promises to their new friends, Geely – or they could commit to spending vast sums of public money fighting a fight that they know they cannot win. A bizarre situation – and one that will raise many questions about their motives. Interesting….
    Also interested in what Geely have promised Boris in return….he said he was looking forward to seeing the ultra low-emissions TX4 that Geely has promised. As far as I’m aware, neither Geely nor LTI have such a vehicle any where near production ready. The devil is always in the detail, and today’s announcement poses some interesting questions in itself…..don’t think we’ve heard the end of this one.

  72. Hi Matt, I am aware that the Vito is a pretty expensive model, but do you think that its worth the price. Considering both the model as well as the services and warranty issues?

  73. Jason
    No, I think £42,000 for a converted van is ridiculous. London cabbies need to be given some real choice – not two over-priced comprimises.
    I see that LTI are about to go back into production – even though they’ve got c.6 months unsold stock. That’s 6 months at their previous sales rate, but with a ruined reputation I can’t see them acheiving that without heavy discounts. I’d imagine that you’ll see some big offers over the next month or so……

  74. The only taxi drivers who would consider one of these things are the poor buggers who have limited options. They are antiquated, expensive,uneconomical, poorly built, uncomfortable and wouldn’t last 5 minutes in an open market.

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