Sunday, 9 September 2007

It takes all sorts!

Many months ago when I started this BLOG, I didn’t feel it necessary to introduce the company I worked for – well at least the brand. MG has to be one of the most well known brands across the world - better known than I ever imagined!
Whenever I was in new company and asked, “Whom do you work for?” “Nanjing Auto”, or “NAC MG” would always get the same response “Who?” Whenever I responded with “MG”. The response was always – oh “Rover”, “Yes I know – didn’t they used to make funny sports cars” or “My granddad used to own an MG”!
So you see outside the circle of enthusiasts (Or Chinese!) it will always be a reference back to the hey day’s of the British Motor industry – but at least it is always something I could explain fairly easy, and the majority of people would identify with the company or the brand fairly quickly. My new company of choice doesn’t quite have the same global identity – or does it?

I spent the last couple of weeks in the UK, a time to reflect on what has happened, and the future – but also a time to meet up with old and new friends. The conversation always started with – “So I hear you have left MG, who are you working for now?” If I answered with “MBH” (Manganese Bronze Holdings), “LTI “(London Taxis International) or “GEELY” I received the same response “Who?” Admittedly once I explained that LTI are the company that build the Iconic London Taxi – everyone instantly understood – maybe not the company, but at least the product!
So to save me going through the same explanation several hundred more times – I thought I would use my BLOG to give a brief explanation of the companies, and the product that will absorb my life for the next who knows number of years!

The actual company I work for is a joint venture between separate entities, MBH (British) and GEELY (Chinese). This is an important fact, mainly because most of us have seen the rest of the UK manufacturing industry disappear in to foreign ownership. This is in fact an expansion. MBH (The owners of LTI) have seen good growth in their European and North American expansion programmes, and can see the enormous potential for growth in Asia – to do this you need an Asian partner, which is where GEELY come in.

GEELY were the first private carmaker in China, and their story is incredible. Shufu Li Founded the company in 1998, he was born in 1963 into a farming family, and his personal rag to riches story requires a full BLOG entry on its own. I actually got to meet the guy personally, a few weeks ago, and was incredibly impressed by his powerful presence yet quiet demeanor.
He has headed up an automotive company that produced a only handful of vehicles in 1998 through to a planned production of 300,000 vehicles in 2007.
With a business plan that simply identified a market, filled it and made money from it - simple but very effective. Whilst everyone else fought over the middle class and business purchasers – GEELY provided what the majority needed, economical, simple and reliable forms of transport. His empire has expanded to building factories all over China and exports to over 40 countries (compare that to NAC MG’s or even MG-Rover’s recent performance!). Having secured the lower end of the car market, GEELY now has ambitions on the rest of the automotive sectors (Just take a look at the latest vehicles to see where those ambitions lie).

Not satisfied with there global passenger car plans, GEELY Identified a market for a purpose built taxi, and have decided to join forces with LTI, to engage in a program of vehicle development, that will see the Iconic London Taxi as the first product being built from the partnership.

The history of LTI is quite different to GEELY’s, and is probably a more familiar tale of rise and fall!
To those “in the industry” it is still referred to as “carbodies”, the original name for the company that started in Coventry as far back as 1919 .
That name was very appropriate because it built separate vehicle bodies to supply the UK’s expanding motor industry, including providing every cabriolet body for all of Fords products up to 1964, and supplying bodies for companies such as Rolls Royce and Bentley, however it was probably most famous for supplying the body of the FX3 to Austin (MG link!), this became the most recognized form of the London Hackney Cab (Black Cab, London Taxi etc.) of all time. In 1959 it took over this business from Austin, and became a full vehicle producer. Building a variety of London Taxi themes over the years, and changing hands several times during the process it finally became part of MBH in 1973, and it changed from the original “Carbodies” name to LTI (London Taxis International) in 1984.

I guess whilst the company is interesting in itself – the history of the London Taxi is even more fascinating.

The history of the London Black Taxi goes back as far as 1625, when they were operated by inn keepers to ferry drunken soles home after hours (nothing changes there then!), the 1st Taxi rank opened outside the Maypole Inn on The Strand (London).
Soon after this Charles the 1st, and then Oliver Cromwell set up legal rulings to control the industry, and over the years the rules governing the industry, have been developed and now build into ensuring that London arguably has the best Taxi service in the world!

The design of the vehicle derives from some of the weird and wonderful laws that surround the vehicle regulations – called the “conditions of fitness”. For example:
The height of the vehicle comes from its requirement to seat a gentleman without him having to remove his bowler hat! (This has been preserved due to the vehicles current need to seat a wheel chair passenger).
The driving position, and that of the front wheels is all to do with the fact that the turning circle needs to be within 25ft (7.6m). A requirement that stems from the fact that the original taxi’s were horse drawn, and were required to travel down the centre of the road, to prevent the horse manure from blocking up the drains or fouling the pavements!

The entrance itself must not be more than 15 inches (38cm) above road level – again harking back to a time before kerbs and footpaths. All of this goes into ensuring that the shape of the vehicle is far more famous than the badge that adorns each cab – I cant think of anything else similar, but would welcome suggestions!

Other interesting, but maybe not pertinent facts about London Taxis

The London Taxi is also (and properly) referred to as “Hackney Carriage”, the word Hackney derives from the French “hacquenee”, which literally means ‘ambling nag’ which is a reference back to the horses that used to pull the carriages.

The term CAB, comes again from the French for ‘Jump like a Goat’. As the original cabs came from France and used to bounce over the cobbles of Londons Streets.

Wilhelm Bruhn invented the taximeter in 1891, and is where the term ‘TAXI’ comes from. Taxe from the French for ‘Price’ and ‘metron’ from the Greek for ‘measure’.

London Taxis don’t have to stop when you hail them, legally Taxis are only plying for business when they are stopped, and cannot refuse a fare under 6 miles or one that will take less than 1 hour.

London Taxi drivers are not legally obliged to give change. If you pay with the incorrect change, they can insist on sending the change to the passenger’s home by post!

Only 1% of London’s Taxi drivers are women.

So as you can see, a very strange joining of companies, but then as my dad would say – it take’s all sorts!


Anonymous said...

company's ? taxi's? program's ?
Learn to spell, damnit!
Companies, taxis, program(me)s.

A-T said...

Cut the jibber jabber Paul and tell us why you left NAC MG. We don't give a stuff about black cabs. LET THE DOGS SEE THE RABBITS!

Dud said...

OK, so as someone has pointed out you may have an apostrophe fetish, but I for one am still interested in your experience in the automotive industry in China even if it is no longer with MG. Most of us in the industry in the UK have had to do business with or visit China by now.

Anonymous said...

I find the historical account of the black cab very interesting. Some of us are more historical inclined.