News : Black cab Monday for Manganese Bronze?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Andrew Elphick

‘Where to guv?’

‘Holyhead Road, Coventry’

‘That where this cab was made! You work for LTI?’

‘Sorry driver, no – Pricewaterhouse Cooper…’

If the hypothetical conversation above sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Rewind to 8 April 2005, and MG Rover calling in Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC). We all know how that saga ended – will Manganeee Bronze (London Taxi International’s parent company) fall prey to an equally undignified end? Chinese Mega-conglomerate Geely already owns a 20% stake of the ailing TX4 manufacturer, but reportedly had refused to release further funding.

The recent temporary cessation of TX4 manufacture due to an unspecified steering fault (and recall of 440 TX4s subsequently built) has potentially tipped Manganese Bronze over the fiscal edge. Shareholder Geely had introduced a new Chinese supplier of steering components in Febuary 2012. Since this introduction only two cases were reported of ‘Peculiar steering characteristics’, according to Chief executive John Russell who added ‘in extreme cases, it could affect the ability to steer the steering wheel. It became clear we have a safety risk there.’

On 12 October, the net result of this product recall happened to be pretty drastic – the company’s London stock exchange share suspension at 0.10p per single share. Ten days later Manganese Bronze issued the following statement:

‘Notice of intention to appoint administrators
22nd October 2012

Manganese Bronze Holdings PLC (the “Group”), the manufacturer of the world famous London taxi, today announces that discussions with various parties to secure funding on acceptable terms to address the Group’s financial needs have proved unsuccessful. The Board has therefore concluded that the Group is no longer a going concern and has filed notice of intention to appoint administrators.

A speedy resolution of the product recall announced on 12 October 2012 relating to the discovery of a steering box fault remains the top priority for the Group and will continue to do so throughout the administration process.

The Board remains hopeful that the fundamental strengths of the company, the TX4 model and its global reputation will provide the platform for a successful business in the future. A further announcement will be made in due course.’

With approximately 300 jobs at stake in Coventry alone, Pricewaterhouse Coopers will hopefully find a suitor for the ailing manufacturer of the world’s only purpose-built Taxi. With rival Mercedes-Benz able to sell you a Taxi meeting the conditions of service today, and Nissan Taxi spotted testing in the capital is the end nigh?

Metro Cammell’s glassfibre ‘Metro Cab’ is today a dead end (though its spiritual successor exists). Even the mighty Checker cab co declared bankruptcy in 2009, 27 years after it built America’s last purpose built Taxi.

Here at AROnline we hope answer (resulting in the restart of production) can be found soon, before another fragment of our ‘firm’ vanishes for ever.

[Source: Autoblog UK]


Picture: Autoblog UK

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.
Keith Adams

31 Comments

  1. I think there is a big difference to Rover here. At the moment the fundamentals are all still in place and the TX4 is still a recognisable, valued product globally. It wont take much to sort a dodgy steering box out! I’m sure a buyer must be out there somewhere who can quickly restart production. With Mercedes and Nissan ready to pounce though they had better not hang around.

  2. Didnt the mayor of london some four years ago announce an agreement with Mercedes Benz regarding Hackney carriages?
    If no one buys the TX4 what does anyone expect?The old FX4 was always expected to have a service life of 30+years-even taking into account re-life of components,now emission regs getting ever stricter in the capital some fairly young models are forced off the road.

    Same thing happened with the routemaster.

  3. I find it reprehensible that the steering box fault that led to this situation was done to a new supplier being introduced by Geely.

    Surely there must be some way of preventing them from acquiring any further assets of the company as they appear to be directly responsible for causing this state of affairs in the first place?

  4. Really feel for the workers.I just wish they would have invested more in development and really brought it up to date. Looking at the newer taxis, it still looks the best, it is just so behind the times in running costs. Nowt is designed to last today, whether we like it or not(I don’t)but, that’s life.

  5. After the success of the TX1, the Ford engined TXII wasn’t popular with cabbies, and then the TX4 suffered fires, so Cabbies were naturally looking for alternatives after the demise of the Metrocab.

    It’s not so much the rules being changed, but major manufacturers making the necessary changes to regular models, hence the (ugly) Vito cabs in London.

  6. My understanding is that cabbies, whilst emotionally attached to the TX4, were growing tired of the high maintenance and reliability issues.

    Once Chinese suppliers were brought it reliability was only going to suffer further – witness the steering boxes – so this was only ever going to go one way.

    It’s a terrible shame but production will now be moved to China as appears to be the trend with Chinese owned firms going into liquidation…

  7. Isn’t it obvious that Geely is going to snap up the rest of LTI at a fraction of the cost it would have had to pay beforehand? or is that just being cynical?

  8. Well they already make the Taxi in China so I see the LTI continuing on the streets except it will probably be cheaper and sourced instead from the Chinese plant. Given the cost of the LTI and clearly inefficient UK plant, I hardly find this a surprising turn of events. I suspect it was expected when the deal was done in the first place that this would happen. If everything had been hunky dory I don’t think they’d have done it. Maybe being cynical but it seems the recall and associated costs very neatly bring an end to the whole affair without maing it look like a lift and shift job…

  9. @9 I stopped buying new Volvos with the last of the Series 2 Volvo V70’s in 2007. Apart from the still excellent old school Volvo D5 engines and the hanging on in there forever, V70 based, XC90, nothing built since has been worthy of the badge. Geely are welcome to the remains!

  10. I presume London Hackney drivers have to use a traditional black cab which provides steady demand. Other than that, at over £30,000 the vehicle is not very competitive.

    In Bristol the regulations require ‘Hackney’ cabs (i.e. those that you can hail) to have disabled access and be painted an odd shade of blue imaginatively called ‘Bristol Blue’. Other than that there is little restriction so most cabs are second-hand MPVs or van-based passenger vehicles like the Fiat Doblo. Clearly these cost much less than a new LTI cab.

    So a traditional black cab is quite a rare sight. I suspect this is the case in most cities and unfortunately these type of cabs are going to go the way of the Routemaster, Leyland Nationals and Bristol buses.

  11. You would presume wrongly. There is no requirement to drive a TX4, but there are a number of requirements that mean an ordinary car is inadequate. The most tricky one to match has been the 25′ turning circle.

    There is currently genuine choice for them from Mercedes, Peugeot/Citroen and (shortly) Nissan. All of these van conversions cost similar amounts to the unique, custom built, TX4. How the TX4 is built for a similar price, I don’t know, though it probably explains why LTI haven’t returned a profit since 2007!

  12. Being a Londoner the current problems Manganese Bronze are suffering are very depressing. The FX and TX series of cabs were/are designed to last and rack up enormous milages. Modern can based taxis just don’t last, I’ve already seen Mercedes taxis starting to show signs of rust, something the FX would do fairly quickly but largely cured on the TX.

  13. Up until August last year I worked for this company, and feel really saddened by this. Geely are doing a hatchet job on Manganese Bronze and it has left the company with very few options in my opinion. The decision to use a Chinese partner was taken approx 6 years ago and was to hopfully make the company more profitable and to reduce the cost of primarily UK produced components by sourceing them from China. Geely was the company’s knight in shinning armour. Between the two companies they set up a manufacturing site in China, and with brand new tooling they are now building Left Hand Drive TX4’s. The plant in Coventry ( where the tooling was wearing out ) still builds the cabs using ‘knocked down’ kits shipped into the UK from China.The cost of these vehicles is high because they are still hand built . This is not a vehicle that is built on a robotized production line. The steering box fault would not have been so difficult to fix had it still been produced by Adwest, who had supplied the box that had been used for years, and was a quality item. Geely should soley take all the blame for this, and their reluctance to give Manganese more funding is a testament to this. I think I am correct in saying that they ( Geely) already have the ‘Intelectual Property Rights ‘ to the design and therefore are just waiting until Manganese Bronze run out of options . I hope I am wrong because the London Cab TX4 is still the best out there . All the competition out there are nothing more than coverted vans.I feel alot of affection for a company that while I was employed by them always looked after me.It’s a great shame for all of the good people that work in the plant in Coventry. My final word on this is ..Come on Geely pull your finger out. Mr John Russel/ Mr Peter Shilcock fight for this company and its workers

  14. @ 16 John Fishwick

    “The steering box fault would not have been so difficult to fix had it still been produced by Adwest, who had supplied the box that had been used for years, and was a quality item.”

    I would like to have been a fly on the wall when the news of what had gone wrong at LTI had broken at Adwest. Unfortunately, quality and specification of product us usually the first casualty of cost cutting negotiation. I’ve had customers tell me that they are simply not interested in the quality of the product that they are buying, they just need the lowest price 🙁

    I hadn’t realised that Coventry had simply become a final assembly outpost for the Chinese factory. Perhaps, if they buy the rest of the business for a token amount, they might open a token R&D department there too, just to keep the British connection credible.

  15. @ 19 tigger
    With regards the quality of the product and the customers. If you were to question the owners of these TX4’s I think you may get a different view. As for Geely, well where do I start? Are all motor manufacturers that source there parts from China suffering the same fate ? As the owmer of an MG ZR should I gamble on a replacment from the current owner of the famous octagan badge ?
    Don’t get me wrong Manganese Bronze was always going to suffer due to the low volumes of vehicles that it produces.A large Asian based company was the answer to sourcing parts at a lower cost and to open up avenues into other markets. Geely was seen as a saviour, but the quality of vital parts where saftey is paramount has got me asking if this was a delibrate attempt to sink the company

  16. I don’t think the Coventry employees will be jobless for very long if the worst happends. JLR STILL need staff in many areas, as well as a few other engineering companies not too far away (Rolls-Royce in Derby).

  17. So we have let another British company, making a British icon be run into the ground, due to lack of investment. Now the Chinese will cynically let it die to take all the best bits.

    Could you imagine the French or Germans allowing this to happen? And we wonder why we have a massive trade deficit, no industry and a stagnant economy.

  18. @21,lets see indeed.
    @23 you cant keep blaming the chinese when companies end up in shit street,if asset strippers,hedge funds and speculators and all the rest of the horrible folk had not had thier feed out of companies like this we would not be even discussing these sad state of affairs,Why didnt Transort for london not have a stake in the company instead? or any other local authority instead of pouring taxpayers money into toxic icelandic banks and bloody airports?
    The french have to be applauded for bailing PSA -even though they dont sell.Why didnt the government do the same for Rover? why can the french get away with this under EU regs?Blame the people you and i vote for.

  19. To get another perspective, I quote “Jim the cabbie”

    http://www.londonreconnections.com/2012/too-high-a-fare-the-decline-and-fall-of-the-london-taxi-company/#comment-47218

    “You all talk rubbish,I am a London taxi driver and I own a Mercedes vito and I say after 16 years of driving a London taxi I finally have a vehicle fit for purpose.
    I and many other vito drivers I have spoken to will never go back to the TX4.
    The problems with the TX4 is shoddy build quality,most of the parts they use are of an inferior quality the rubbers they use on suspension parts are in all honesty rubbish.
    One of the local garages in Bethany green quote they have to work on 5 vitos to earn the same money as working on one TX4 I rest my case”

  20. Chinese ownership doesnt seem to be doing Volve much harm yet. The just launched V40 is widely regarded as the best new Volvo in years and seems to be a very high quality product. Certainly a millions miles away from the original Dutch built, Mitsubishi based V40 that existed when Volvo was an independant company.

  21. @ 28 Paul:

    Don’t forget that the new V40 is still based on the Ford C1 platform and most of the design work was still carried out under Ford ownership.

    As someone that bought new Volvo’s for years and doesn’t anymore, I can tell you that there is a huge difference between the quality of a Volvo designed Series 2 V70 (2000-2007) and a Ford designed Series 3 V70 (2007-). The last new Volvo that I bought was the very last of the line Series 2 V70 D5’s in 2007, I wouldn’t touch the later one.

    A local funeral director client of mine ran a fleet of Volvos for many years, some of them were 15 years old at the end. He got 3 new style ones in on trial around 2009 and he took me out to see how badly made they were. He’s since ordered a fleet of Mercedes cars, limos and hearses.

    Having said that, these just reflect designs under Ford ownership. The jury will have to remain out until we see what the quality of Geely designed Volvos are like and what they quality is like when they finally become, partially locally assembled, Chinese built, cars in the style of the TX4 and SAIC’s 6.

    No argument about the Mitsubishi based V40 though, completely awful car! When they gave me loan cars when my own V70 was in for service, the C30’s and the V50’s that they lent me were pretty awful too.

  22. @ John Fishwich
    Google “London Taxi TX4 intellectual property rights”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manganese_Bronze_Holdings
    says “Between July 2003 and November 2004 MBH sold its property portfolio,
    including the land under its Coventry manufacturing facility”

    Which basically says “we surrender” doesn’t it?

    This Chinese site http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/ID/695619/Geely-Englon-TX4-a-gentle-cab-accessible-to-all.aspx
    Gives the answer to your thought about IPR:
    “Shanghai Englon TX4 is not simply a brand transfer. Geely has acquired the entire intellectual property of the brand and the entire equipment, the assembly line and supporting facilities for the vehicle”

    If that’s true whats PWC got left to sell?
    Very sad, the only hope I can give is to suggest we clone this guy:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14969465

  23. I think to my self with the recent issue on the tx4 steering problems and also the past problems with the lti cabs.
    I hope there is a solution to rectify all this,because I am a great fan and a hackney carriage driver
    Stockport
    Nasar khan

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