London, Sept.5 : Another British icon has gone the Chinese way. We are talking about taxis.
They are now not being made in Britain, but at a sprawling factory in the lush green suburbs of Shanghai.
Young Chinese workers have been roped in for the full-scale production of one of Britain's most emblematic vehicles.
London Taxi International, which will continue to build nine out ten cabs used in Britain at a factory in Coventry, could not expand at its small-scale, high-cost plant. So it turned to China to drive overseas expansion.
The Scotsman quoted Paul Stowe, a British motor executive who is overseeing the joint venture between Britain's Manganese Bronze Holdings, owner of London Taxi International, and Geely Group Holdings, one of China's biggest independent carmakers, as saying that this is a step in the right direction if expansion is the objective.
According to Stowe, the venture is already bearing fruit, with agreements signed to sell 6,000 London Taxis from the Chinese factory, more than double the Coventry plant's annual output.
Most will go to cities like Singapore, Dubai, Moscow - that covet the image of a black cab associated with the London Taxis' tradition of good service and durability.
Manganese Bronze Holdings hunted for nearly a decade for a suitable Chinese partner. Geely was looking for a chance to bring onboard the new technology and quality upgrades it needs to get ahead in China's brutally competitive market, without risking being swallowed by a huge international rival.
Trial production of London Taxi's TX4, equipped with Mitsubishi engines, began last week in Geely's factory, in the scenic canal town of Fengjing. By mid-December, the plant will launch mass production.
By boosting volume, LTI expects to reduce costs by up to 60 per cent, with most of the savings coming not from cheaper labour but from less costly parts, Stowe said.
It is the vehicle's traditional idiosyncrasies, such as its famed ability to make extremely tight turns, and the storage space next to the driver's seat that originally held hay bales in the days of horse and carriage, that give the black cab its appeal, he added.
Stowe, who has sold the rights to his memoir of his experiences working in China with MG Nanjing to the BBC, is something of an cultural ambassador in the car-making world.