Le taxi londonien est un emblème et une véritable industrie pour la ville. Pourtant la société de fabrication de ces taxis, la formation des chauffeurs… sont peu connues. De plus, le marché du traditionnel taxi londonien fait face à une concurrence de plus en plus accrue d’autres marques ou d’autres services, tels que les applications pour Smartphones. Comparons donc plus amplement les offres et voyons si la tradition peut être mise à mal par la technologie.
London black cabs are famous all over the word because they are one of the national symbols of Great Britain, like the red phone box!
But are they still so British? Nowadays, Maganese Bronze Holdings is the manufacturer of the iconic London black cab. It has become the first national automaker since the bankruptcy of MG Rover in 2005. In 2006, 20% of Manganese belonged to the Chinese company Greely and on 2013 February 1st, Greely bought Manganese Bronze Holdings for 11.04 million pounds. It aims to boost the production and export the British taxis!
The black cabs are made in a factory in Coventry (England). The TX4 is the last cab model manufactured by The London Taxi Company (subsidiary of the Maganese Group).
How can a person become a black cab driver? Indeed the training of the drivers is usually unknown but it seems to be quite hard because only 30% of the students finally graduate. There are 20 000 black cabs in circulation in London, a city ten times bigger than Paris. The future drivers have to learn all the streets (25 000 streets), the new spots, restaurants or hotels, and all the short-cuts by heart. To use a GPS would belike an insult to their profession!
The black cabs provide a service that is unequalled: the vehicles are functional because they can make a U turn even in narrow streets, the car is big enough for people who wear top hats, there is a specific location for bags close to the driver… If your car has this obligatory equipment, you can obtain a licence (contrary to other places, like New York, where there is a limited number of yellow cabs which are allowed to drive in a given area).
But London black cabs now have to face new competitors like Mercedes or Nissan that produce similar cars and have today 38% of the London taxis market.
Manganese’s financial problems, the crisis and the digital revolution are putting the traditional black cabs in trouble.
Uber is a private taxi firm that appeared in the Silicon Valley and has developed an application for Smartphone. It was created because of a lack of public transport (for example: the underground service which isn’t connected with the train service or the bus service that is inefficient). You can find Uber in Europe and Northern America. The application is very easy to use: you enter your name, email, credit card details (so you do not need to deal with cash, the money is debited directly). Moreover the company uses luxury cars like berlines or SUVs: when driven in those cabs, you feel special! They come quite fast because they are several taxis in the area and the application can locate you quickly.
Hailo is another private taxi firm, but unlike Uber, it’s a more regular cab business. You can find it in London, New York, Dublin, Chicago and Boston. Prices are lower than Uber’s! It will soon offer a modern service which will consist in accessible vehicles for wheelchair users.
On top of those new services imported from the USA, Manganese Bronze recently faced a series of unexpected difficulties. On 2012 October 12th The London Taxi Company announced the recall of some 460 of its TX4 model, that had been delivered since February 2012, owing to two incidents involving a loss of power steering. The company warned that the interruption of production would have a significant impact on its cash and that its financial position would remain uncertain until a solution can be found. It was finally bought by the Chinese company, Greely. It is weakened by the decline in sales and five years of negative results. The company is now also suffering the rise of a serious competitor: Eco City, which sells vehicles derived from Mercedes Benz Vito.
This is a real disruption but some people think the London black cab could resist it. Indeed, with Uber, for example, prices are opaque: you have finally a first indication of price with the bill via email (there is no meter in the cab). Besides, the website is frustrating to use on mobile phone and because of the luxury cars, Uber’s prices are twice that of the standard London black cabs.
For now, the passengers have the future of London black cabs in their hands. Indeed the type of service they choose can help decide the future of the London black cab industry. These are the rules of supply and demand…
Céline LEBRUN & Sarah BROCHARD