The boxy black taxis that prowl London's streets are such an integral part of the landscape that it's hard to imagine the city without them. But imagine we must. The manufacturer of the cabs, Manganese Bronze, has announced that it is going into "administration," the British equivalent of bankruptcy proceedings. If the manufacturer, colloquially known as The London Taxi Company, can't work out a deal with creditors, the black cabs could be gone for good. Here, a guide to the possible end of an era:
What's so special about these taxis?
"There is nothing quite like riding in a London black cab," say Matthew Curtin and Marietta Cauchi at The Wall Street Journal. "The limousine-like experienced at the price of an ordinary taxi fare has long set traveling by taxi in the U.K. capital apart from squeezing into a Peugeot in Paris or a Toyota in Tokyo." The look of the most current model, the TX4, is based on the original that made its debut in 1958. "It's the classic shape," cabbie Tom Rudland tells the Journal. "Passengers want their photos taken with my cab all the time."
Why is the London Taxi Company in trouble?
Its "aging product line faced growing competition from Mercedes-Benz and a new taxi Nissan plans to begin selling in London next year," says John Reed at Britain's The Financial Times. Until recently, Manganese produced the only cab that could meet London's strict standards, including a "maximum 25-foot (7.5-meter) turning circle, which allows taxis to make U-turns in city streets laid out in the days of horse-drawn carriages," say Curtin and Cauchi. But that's no longer the case.
So foreign competitors drove it under?
Not entirely. Facing falling sales, Manganese Bronze started using Chinese supplies to cut costs, which may have been its undoing. Earlier this month, the company had to recall 400 TX4s because of a defect in the steering mechanism. After the recall, "shares in Manganese, which is 20 percent owned by Chinese carmaker Geely, was suspended and the 64-year-old company's survival thrown into doubt," says Reed. In addition, Manganese had gotten into trouble with shareholders for some dubious book-keeping.
Are the cabs' days numbered?
It depends. Manganese is in talks with Geely for a possible loan worth about $24 million, says Agence France Presse. The company said in a statement that "it remains hopeful that the fundamental strengths of the company… and its global reputation will provide the platform for a successful business in the future." The company is also apparently hoping to benefit from a nostalgic pull on people's hearts. The union representing London's taxi drivers said the cabs were "an iconic part of Britain's manufacturing heritage," and called on the government for aid.