Zhejiang Geely is not the only Chinese company that has backed a plant in Coventry to tap opportunities from the electrification of London’s taxis.
Red Sun Group, a privately-controlled conglomerate based in Nanjing that has more than 10,000 staff and annual turnover of £2.6 billion (US$3.46 billion), announced a tie-up three months ago with British company Ecotive to supply an alternative electric-petrol hybrid taxi.
“Red Sun wishes to invest in facilities for the new breed of commercial vehicles powered by the tried and tested, highly efficient hybrid Ecotive vehicle platform, starting with the production of the MetroCab,” it said in a statement in March.
Red Sun said it would commit more than £100 million for a new plant to be built by CAD CAM Automotive (CCA), in which it has a significant shareholding.
CCA, based in Coventry, is a provider of lightweight aluminium vehicle bodies for the “special vehicles operations” of Jaguar Land Rover.
Two years ago CCA and Red Sun said they were finalising a merger involving £300 million of investment over five years.
The plan, which would “create up to 1,000 jobs”, would start with a £50 million “new energy” vehicle research and development centre, CCA said in a statement at the time.
Red Sun’s chairman Yang Shouhai, a former county-level agriculture and rural affairs cadre, announced in March that the new factory would have an annual output capacity of 300,000 vehicles.
CCA has a product design and engineering heritage that stretches back for more that a century. The company supplied bodies to British car marques MG and Aston Martin from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, as well as the first 200 bodies for London’s black cab.
The MetroCab is a British brand of taxicabs first introduced in the mid-1980s and was produced until 2006.
Its ownership had changed hands several times, and has since the early 2000s been owned by Ecotive, a unit of electric cars to monorail projects developer Kamkorp Group, which is owned by UK-based businessman Kamal Siddiqi.
Kamkorp has been developing a hybrid Metrocab since the mid-2000s and has built multiple prototypes.
Red Sun, which started its automobile operations three years ago, will also form a joint venture with a mainland Chinese company to build a separate “green, smart automotive base” capable of producing 500,000 units a year, Yang added.
Late last year, the UK Court of Appeal upheld a 2016 verdict by the London High Court to dismiss a claim by Geely’s London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) that the Metrocab’s design was a copy of its TX4 product and earlier models of the London black cabs.
The court threw out LEVC’s attempt to trademark the shape of London's traditional black cabs, on grounds that the shape of the vehicles lacked “distinctive character” and was not a “valid registered trademark”.
LEVC chief executive Chris Gubbey said the appearance of rival car makers would not affect their strategic plans.
“I don’t see the competition changing our forecasts or what we want to do over the long term,” Gubbey said. “There are moves to emulate what we’ve done, which is an endorsement in a way … monopoly is never a good position.”