Nissan’s Hackney Carriage Triggers Hackneyed Headlines

London Taxi. Picture courtesy Nissan

“Asian Makers Battling to be London’s Black Taxi of Choice,” headlines The Detroit Bureau with more than a hint of suppressed racism. What is happening is that Nissan is bidding to replace the fabled, but ancient London Taxi with something that is better suited for now and the future. The current purveyor of the famous London Hackney Carriage is the London Taxi Company, a British company that happens to be owned by China’s Geely. London Taxi Co. is not putting up much of a battle, but don’t let that ruin a hackneyed headline.

Caucasian carmarkers, so to speak, are not sitting on their hands either. Daimler, which owns a good chunk of the European taxi market, is in London with its Vito, a fact that The Detroit Bureau omits. It would get in the way of the hackneyed headline, I guess.

Nissan has been in the London market openly since 2012 with its Taxi for London, and under cover for decades: Many London Taxis were powered by a Nissan diesel engine. The new taxi is home-grown. It was designed right here in London by Nissan Design Europe (NDE) in Paddington, the same design center that shaped the Qashqai and Juke. The taxi is part of Nissan’s strategy to go after the global taxi market. Nissan famously received the contract for Manhattan’s taxi, along with subsequent legal trouble. Nissan also is going after the taxi markets of Barcelona and Tokyo.

For London, Nissan had to adhere to the strict regulations governing Hackney Carriages, including the required 25-foot (7.6-metre) turning circle. Which is not, as many presume, based on London’s narrow streets, but on the small 25 foot roundabout at London’s Savoy hotel. The “Savoy Court” by the way is the only place in England where the traffic runs on the right side, and it took a special act of Parliament for that.

The London Taxi Co. was bought by Geely after its former owner Manganese Bronze went belly-up in 2012. Manganese had entered a joint venture with Geely in 2006. Later, most of the production of the cabs was moved to Shanghai. As a face-saving move, final assembly happened in Coventry, England.  The battle of the Asians is mostly in the mind of the headline writer, because Geely isn’t fighting. Geely made noises that it might come out with a new taxi some time around 2017, we’ll see whether usually tightfisted Geely will invest the considerable cash.  Geely tried to offer the London taxi as a luxury vehicle in China, but Chinese know better.

British papers, usually not averse to catchy headlines, would hardly call the fake fight an Asian battle. Nissan has been adopted as a British company, and credited with the revival of the auto industry in the UK.  Nissan’s Andy Palmer, a Brit who shares the persuasion with many other Nissan execs, has just been semi-knighted. He was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to the British automotive industry. He shares that title with James Bond.