Black & Yellow

Can Manganese Bronze fend off Nissan?

Have you ever wondered how New York ended up with its yellow cabs? I’m taller than most, so I may be speaking just for the lanky, but does anyone actually fit in a yellow cab comfortably? I guess they are as iconic as London’s black cabs but as far as I am concerned they are nowhere near as practical. I have painful memories of being driven by a newly arrived Armenian immigrant, still unable to speak much English and trying desperately to work out which way to go, whilst lying down in the back of a cab, my feet hanging out of the side windows – often with my baggage on my lap, as the “trunk” would only accommodate Ken and Barbie-sized bags.

Over the years, I guess this has given many of my fellow Britishers a superior feeling, comparing these rather unlikely service vehicles with what we have at home. I always assumed a conspiracy of sorts as I didn’t believe that someone could possibly have designed them this way. From the little research I have undertaken on this subject I think driver safety considerations have had a lot to do with the way the internal space is subdivided, making it more cramped in the back, and whilst providing some protection for the driver this has lead to more passenger injuries in accidents – so, both cramped and dangerous.

It looks though as if things are now changing on the streets of New York and these Dinky Toys are going to be replaced with more appropriate vehicles. I was interested to see that these colourful but impractical vehicles are going to be phased out, over the next six or so years, and replaced by Nissan’s NV200, an altogether more appropriate looking  vehicle for the conveyance of tall people on their way around town and probably others too. Not only that, but the same vehicle has already been adopted in Tokyo and now Nissan is making a play for Manganese Bronze’s franchise strangle-hold on London’s black cab too.

Rather wonderfully positioned as the “ubiquitous taxi” and “global taxi” by Nissan’s head of product planning, this promotion of the NV200 shows a lovely bit of segmented marketing common sense that is worthy of note. Just how has Manganese Bronze remained unchallenged for so long and why-oh-why has New York had such terrible taxis for so long? I guess it takes a brave city to challenge an icon, but New York has done it and perhaps we’ll see something similar in London with the traditional black cabs being relegated to tourist attractions, like gondolas in Venice, whilst the rest of us travel in Nissan’s new London vaporetto.

Have Nissan really got a chance of replacing the traditional London cab, or has its recent London PR on this subject just been intended to raise its profile during the Olympics, after losing to BMW the apparently coveted right of being the “chief car sponsor” for the games?  Well, apart from its ubiquity, it is also emphasising its green credentials and in any city that is going to become more of an issue over time, also being cheaper to buy and run is not something what most operators would overlook for the sake of tradition alone. Nissan say that the NV200 will do 53.3 mpg and offer a massive 50% fuel saving over the most efficient Manganese Bronze vehicle too.

Manganese Bronze are actively involved selling its cabs in Asia too but it is a small artefact of a bigger concern, once engaged in making ship’s propellers and the like, and it is hard to see how it will be able to match the product development and scale benefits of a player like Nissan if it really wants to take them on. Whilst traditionalists may want to keep the familiar London cab the product advantages of newer technology that bring both environmental and cost benefits are going to be hard to ignore and if Nissan really wants this market, for profile reasons probably more than its size alone; it has a much stronger balance sheet too.

I have a funny feeling that there is more to this challenge than just PR. Nissan seems to be making a serious play for the “global taxi” that Manganese Bronze is going to find hard to fend off.


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