China hails black cab agreement
The iconic cab could be a regular sight in Chinese cities by 2008
One of the biggest manufacturers of the iconic London black cab has signed a £53m joint-venture agreement to build the car in China.
Manganese Bronze's proposed new plant in Shanghai will be able to make up to 20,000 taxis a year.
The vehicles are earmarked for China and other emerging car markets.
The firm will retain its London Taxis International plant in Coventry, which has made more than 100,000 black cabs since production began in 1948.
A legally-binding agreement between Manganese Bronze and Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely is expected to be signed in the next few weeks.
"The London black taxi is an iconic vehicle" - Li Shufu, Zhejiang Geely chairman
The UK firm will invest £19.85m as its share of the venture and will have the rights to sell the cars to markets outside of Asia.
Finance director Mark Fryer said that the deal, when finalised, would "increase the appeal of our iconic vehicle around the world".
"There are more than one million vehicles used as taxis in China, and the London taxi will add to the choice available to the Chinese consumer," Mr Fryer said.
"Big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai offer major opportunities but Geely has more than 1,000 dealerships across China so it's a truly nationwide prospect."
As well operating as regular taxis, the vehicles will be sold as limousines to hotels and to wealthy private owners.
Last year Manganese sold 2,412 black cabs, with price tags between £22,000 and £30,000.
The high cost of vehicles as well as export fees have made overseas growth difficult.
Mr Fryer said that some of the parts bought by the joint venture may be shipped to the UK making the operation at Coventry "even more viable".
"There will be no redundancies as a result of this," he said. "If anything we will be recruiting people to support the joint venture."
Zhejiang Geely, which began making cars in 1996, has seen car demand grow by 50% in the last six months and its chairman Li Shufu welcomed the proposed deal.
"The London black taxi is an iconic vehicle and we believe that the joint venture can create significant value for shareholders of both sides," he said.
"We look forward to a significant export opportunity and we are confident that the joint venture will be a success."
Hong Kong already has London taxis which were made elsewhere and shipped to the territory.