During a week that saw the British legend James Bond brought back to the world's cinema screens, it was sad to see the apparent imminent demise of a very real British icon: the London Black Cab.
The vehicle has been virtual time-capsule which interlinks the economic psycho-geographies of Bond Street and Threadneedle Street, it crosses numerous decades, and played a prominent role during the closing ceremony of this year's Olympics.
However, in direct contrast to that celebration, recent news has come that the vehicle's principle manufacturer and manufacturing licensor, Manganese Bronze Holdings plc, with a workforce of 288 people, has been forced to call in PricewaterhouseCoopers, to act as the administrators; having failed to elicit necessary re-structuring finance from China's Geely, a JV partner.
Presently it seems that unless PwC can find an optimal direct restructuring and recapitalisation route (best for all concerned, including remaining shareholders), a likely outcome would be the more advantageous 'packaged liquidation' (for any buyer and employees) versus at worst, a fire-sale of remaining company assets.
[NB Physical assets have dwindled over the years as MBH sought to gain liquidity and run lean, with sale and lease-back of its HQ property the prime example. Today it seems that 'goodwill' elements such as trading name and vehicle design & tooling are prime valuation determinants, along with usual inventory, (a costly £3.9m and accounting erred) IT system and miscellaneous].
The suspended share price today, near the end of 2012, now languishes at 10p.
(MarketCap context: end '08 = 600p, end '09 = 90p, end '10 = 100p, end '11 = 75p)
Manganese Bronze built a business that spans the prime areas of vehicle manufacturer, vehicle retail and vehicle maintenance. Most activities are undertaken under the trading name of the London Taxi Company.
LTC itself consists of 3 divisions:
1. Vehicle Sales - including design, development, assembly and retail [new and part exchanged]
2. Vehicle Services – primarily provision of finance
3. Shanghai LTI – manufacturing and sales JV with China's Geely Auto
(of which Lloyds Banking Group holds 48%)
Whilst 1. and 2. have been essentially continuance of 'business as usual' in the UK, it was company investors that initially pushed for creation of the 3. viewing the international high regard for the classic London cab as both an exportable item (from 'commodity' to 'idiosyncratic' relative to region) as well as recognising the obvious need to reduce the impact of invariably high UK assembly costs, for what is a high labour content vehicle.
The Recent Past -
The 2008 financial crisis had an immediate and to date long-lasting effect upon the fortunes of MBH, given the massive deflation of what to then had been strong demand buoyancy from its customers – large and medium sized fleet operators and single owner-operators – who themselves heavily relied upon corporate and personal fares from those within London's financial and support sectors.
Recognising the fragility of the company at the time, and so as to strengthen the strategic mutual interests of the Anglo-Sino relationship, October 2008 saw previous talks with Geely Auto culminate in the sale of near 20% in MBH to the Shanghai based vehicle manufacturer, at a stock price in the region of 600p
This was in effect done to underpin the financing structure of the company, to try and ensure greater stability and reduced pressure on what was likely as a downward trend of free-float trading.
Increasingly Dire Straits -
That assisted for a short time, but as earnings results faltered year on year the ever present 'eyes of the market' narrowed to a contemplative and increasingly cynical squint, thus ongoing pressure seeing the general share price drop from
A view of corporate fundamentals illustrates the condition of very poor health. The share price of the 30 million registered share float was suspended from market trading when the announcement was made, done so at a price of 10p. This obviously gives a Market Capitalisation of approximately £3 million, a pitiful sum.
Expected Stumble...of Sorts -
For some years those drivers and operators 'at the coal face' recognised an increasing failure of LTC product quality, with increasing levels of “things gone wrong”. With an ever present eye upon UK auto manufacture, conversations between investment-auto-motives and rank-parked cab drivers highlighted an ever-present, yet critically increasing, dissatisfaction with LTC; as serious and less serious vehicle problems spanning engine, gearbox and ancillaries, prior to the latest issue of the steering box which required a product recall of 400 cabs.
[NB it is understood by investment-auto-motives that the steering box issue is not immediately dangerous, the box is understood as a conventional hydraulically assisted mechanical link, with simply loss of hydraulic power assistance; able to operate unassisted].
Whilst a good portion of that driver dissatisfaction is directly due to MBH/LTC''s component and service failures, it must be recognised that driver disaffection was heightened by an inability to earn during a more economically troublesome 2012.
Nevertheless, it was felt - real or perceived - that the later TX models had become less reliable, drivers 'off the road' for longer periods, which they felt was attributable to diminishing product quality between TX2 and TX4, a less enjoyable ownership experience and critically their business costs. Thus some 'cabbies' viewed the competitive position of MBH/LTC as increasingly tenuous, from a ground floor perspective.
The Economic Squeeze -
It seems a viscous circle once again emerged between LTC and operator owners, whereby problem vehicles required more replaced parts, necessitated longer time by service technicians and so saw a hike in both parts replacement costs and associated labour costs, both of which incurred VAT.
Of course it is almost an expected truism – though morally wrong – that during lean economic times both distributor associated dealers and independent garages will seek to stretch-out repair and servicing jobs for their own financial benefit. But by far the greatest impact has been the stalling economy which since 2008 has meant the unfortunate appearance of a vicious downward economic spiral affecting all levels of the inter-linked service and industry value chain.
The cracks first appeared in 2008 when recognising the very fragile near term picture, and likelihood of mid term depleted new vehicle sales, MBH sought to operationally redress the downturn. That obvious forecast was realised, with the annual new vehicle sales rate diminished as follows:
2008 = 1,900 units approx.
2009 = 1,700 units approx.
2010 = 1,650 units approx.
2011 = 1,500 units approx.
Positive Company Reaction -
In order to try and achieve the prime necessity of reducing per unit losses, ensure Coventry's manufacturing activities and ultimately 'balancing the books', it was necessary that new component sourcing efforts were undertaken, seeking to obtain lower value items (typically pressed and casting produced mechanicals) from those China located companies that had been involved in the ramp-up of TX4 production in Shanghai, many of whom themselves had been awarded ISO 9000 quality awards, or recognised Chinese equivalents.
Thus the MBH Board and managers invariably leveraged the immediate opportunities available to them, so as to reduce manufacturing costs and so try maintain stable though low level margins in the face of ever growing product competition in the UK Hackney Carriage segment.
So as seen, strategically and operationally the company under increasing commercial pressure manoeuvred as necessary, seeking to continue to serve its customers and temper the grievances of increasingly fraught shareholders that had seen the value of their holdings effectively plummet.
That battle to overcome macro and micro headwinds, had up until recently been well fought, though “far from out of the woods”.
2010 vs 2011 Results -
MBH appears to have necessarily frozen the IR portion of its website – responding to regulatory needs - thus there is an inability to access and read the quarterly / bi-annual / annual earnings releases over the years.
However basic figures available via other sources show the following business pick-up between 2010 and 2011 as manufacturing cost savings and a 'sweated' Service division were off-setting the loss new vehicle sales:
FY2010 vs FY 2011
Group Revenue: £75m vs £69,6m (+7.8%)
Operating Loss: £1.3m vs £1.9m (+31%) [exc special items]
Finance Costs: £0.8m vs £0.9m (+8%)
EBIT: £-2.6m vs £-6.3m (+58%)
EPS: -9.95p vs -18.19p
Net Debt: £8.9m vs £14.4m (+38.2%)
[NB an exceptional restructuring cost of £-3.5m was incurred for 2010]
Hence indications of new momentum.
Q1 2012 Corporate Update -
The beginning of the year showed renewed strength within the enterprise, with the Q1 results and investor presentation depicting:
- Record export sales in 2011 of 705 units vs 2010 of 226 units
(500 units shipped to Azerbaijan in February)
- Sales of new vehicles in London rose 4% YoY (1,074 vs 1,034)
- Sales of new vehicles across UK declined -31% (428 vs 619)
- UK Group operating loss much reduced (£-377k vs £-2m) (exc JV income)
- Cash generation of £7.1m (£7.7m used in 2010)
- Continued JV development of TX4- Continue TXn 'global taxi' development
- Identify further JV opportunities
(ie international order book)
- Stabalised financial position- (Critical) extended credit terms by Geely Auto.
- Sluggish London sales expect boost from new TfL regulations
- Launch of new Euro V compliant vehicle
- Interim agreement signed regards LTC support of Geely Cars UK introduction
- 'After tough years, company well positioned with Geely' (paraphrased)
Miscreant Accounting -
However, for all the good work seen on renewed foundations, it has been the reported issue of accounting 'oversight', an oversight estimated at £3.9m incurred on IT systems procurement and maintenance, that has now heavily undermined the balance sheet and cash-flow position of MBH.
Whilst CEO John Russell tries to best manage this newly arrived blow, press reports indicate that the ultimate blame is being accorded to the finance function and invariably CFO Peter Johansen, perhaps along with the external auditors Grant Thornton UK, if reported as audited accounts.
From this week onwards there will no doubt be a near forensic focus on previous reporting and management accounts between PwC and GT.
The prime concern for MBH and its shareholders and creditors, financiers and suppliers, yet more so for a potential company buyer, is exactly what effect the outcome of an investigation might have.
Critically, whether the £3.9m sunk into IT systems can actually be viewed as providing substantial competitive advantage, so truly value generative, in better connecting those core aspects of the internal value chain and associated supporting activities.
If viewed as such, it would add to a much improved valuation of 'intangibles' which could be effectively re-booked to the long-term assets portion of the balance sheet.
(The art of interpretation always a moot topic in the compilation of accounts!)
Intensified Stricken Position -
As important, the company's executives, external stakeholders and any new buyer( will be very much aware of the intensified competition which has come to pass within the black cab sector over the last decade.
With the ability to offer high general functionality and improved running costs, small, midi and large passenger vans have over the last 10 years taken an ever increasingly large slice of the general mini-cab market across London and the UK, increasingly replacing saloon cars, estate cars and older suburban run FX series and TX series black cabs during the early 2000s.
But for those higher-value 24 hour city-centre applications, typically overseen by the Public Carriage Office, the fact that the iconic black cab had been designed to fulfil the demanding criteria of 'Hackney Carriage' regulations had for a seeming eon given it effective protection against the less agile standard production vehicle.
That was the case up until the last 5 years or so.
In a bid to create greater competition, add what was viewed as greater fairness, and dismantle what was by many seen as a closed-shop approach to gaining and running a black-cab licence, the unified operating agency that is Transport for London (TfL) sought to slowly deregulate the sector.
This was first seen with a more lassez-faire attitude toward mini-cabs, itself leveraged through the creation of TfL regulated and approved taxis which themselves were typically black coloured mid-sized people carriers; so a hybrid of mini-cab and classic black-cab.
Thus, TfL and the PCO started to dismantle what had been historically fervent protectionist walls against other vehicle types ostensibly produced by foreign manufacturers which tended to utilise associated vehicle converters located within the UK.
[NB European harmonisation of taxi type vehicle regulations provides an incentive for major vehicle manufacturers to create central in-house modification centres,as opposed to deploying country by country specialist adaption companies to befit local needs].
So for years those others had well recognised the their inability to access the profitable black cab trade, and had feared the waste of investment costs necessary to modify a standard vehicle to meet PCO regulations – the greatest issue being that of the required turning circle radius – to 'U' turn in what are narrow olde London streets.
But the opportunity to grasp a slice of the official 'Ply for Hire' sector, operated by “The Knowledge” qualified “Green Badge” holders proved very tempting. And so gradually headway has been made by others.
Most notably Daimler with its Vito M8 model.
The Black Cab Market -
Very basic web research indicates that London's black cab 'car parc' (by far the biggest in the UK) is approximately 23,000 vehicles, out of approximately 25,000 nationwide. (Of these 23,000, about 12,000 are in use midweek afternoons).
It is understood that the TX series holds 93% of the 'orange lamp' taxi population and the Vito 6% (remaining being older MetroCabs). The standard TX4 black cab presently costs about £31,000 (actually £29,150 or 32,15), versus approximately £34,000 for the modified Vito.
[NB The distributors of Vito (via H1 2012 reporting) cite TfL data that indicates that the vito has taken 38% of all new taxi sales, presumably spanning all taxi types not simply 'pure' black cab].
Two approaches may be used to gauge the market value: producer intelligence and car parc intelligence.
Regards the former, MBH has traditionally produced about 2,500 vehicles per annum, as mentioned, the downturn seeing that fall to 1,900 units in 2009 and 1,500 in 2011. Thus in the present mid term 'new norm' it could be assumed that average annual demand of TX vehicle is about 1,700. This rate alone is worth £52,700,000 . At the old norm rate of 2,500 worth £77,500,000.
However, looking at broader 'car parc' renewal, it is assumed that a vehicle is replaced on average every 5 years (though actually between 4 and 6 years depending on reliability, mileage, financing structure and operator type). These used vehicles sold-off to other UK regions, whilst a small portion of far older FX series vehicles remain run by enthusiast drivers as 'originals'. The Euro 5 emissions regulations thus hasten and assist that renewal rate.
With a car parc of 21,000, a 5 year renewal rate starting as of 2013, it indicates a theorectical annual demand rate of about 4,200 units. Using present TX pricing alone, that indicates a theoretical annual market value is £130,200,000.
[NB However, the Mercedes Vito retails at approximately £34,000 and could be viewed as the new benchmark for a next generation vehicle which offers improved running costs, and arguably better residual values].
Furthermore, the Mayor of London's office set-down requirements that no vehicle over 15 years old would be allowed to remain, given that a reported 20% of PM10 classified air pollution derived from taxi tail-pipes.
Little wonder then that Mercedes and others such as Nissan, with far better eco credentials, wish to make headway into the London and UK Hackney Carriage arena, at the trough of a new economic cycle, and start of a new green era, and critically, especially so during a period when private and fleet car sales in Europe have slowed.
The New Entrants -
As seen, over the last decade growing recognition that TfL was practically changing and 'opening-up' that previous 'closed shop' culture gave far greater confidence to those on the 'outside', as long as they could meet the necessary vehicle functionality demands set in place for very good reason to aid the public and drivers alike.
As noted, the greatest response has undoubtedly come from Daimler via adaptation of the the Mercedes-Benz Vito passenger van, itself a 6 passenger seater, thus providing greater seating capacity than the 5 seater TX4 series. It is produced in the Basque area of Spain and in special London taxi guise uses a rear axle unit licensed from the specialist engineering company One80.
It gained PCO accreditation in 2008,and has since been sold via a subsidiary of Eco City Vehicles plc (an AIM listed company) called KPM-UK.
To enable accordance to PCO turning circle standards, the Vito has been fitted with 'rear steer' modification thus making what were normal uni-directional fixed rear wheels multi-directional, the rear steer only activated when manoeuvring at low speeds. That was
But now the TX and so MBH/LTC is under even more direct attacked from Japan and even the US.
The Nissan NV200 small van was showcased in August 2012 as a black cab variant, and touted as ready for 2014, whilst also publicised as a possible new New York yellow cab – so effectively seeking to be seen as the global taxi standard.
It is smaller than the Mercedes Vito but package efficient given its 'tall-boy' body (this shape very common in Japan), and provides the conventional 3+1+1 seating layout of the London Taxi. It offers a standard diesel engine (the whole vehicle reported by Nissan as 50% more efficient than the TX4) and has the apparent option an EV variant, supposedly with affordable battery and maintenance costs.
[NB investment-auto-motives in not convinced by the ever depleting argument for EVs (given present and mid-term battery cost, battery replacement and specialist servicing needs, and so believes that the EV variant is being touted by Nissan UK as a PR exercise and to tempt TfLTfL the PCO and others toward the NV200. It will however and rightly should be judged on its own merits].
Critically, unlike Vito and its more corporate account and group travel directed clientèle, the NV200 seeks to compete head-to-head against TX4.
But what gives Nissan (ie Renault-Nissan) the confidence to do so?
The fact is that Nissan is the UK's largest vehicle producer, having manufactured in Sunderland since the mid 1980s, itself along with Toyota and Honda the mainstay of British vehicle manufacture by volume, in contrast to the premium set of JLR, Rolls-Royce, Bentley (all foreign owned) which provide useful but less turnover.
Nissan's good standing has been attained as both being seen to be committed to the UK, as an export earner and job provider for the local North East and inter-regional Midlands. That powerful economic concoction means that it rightfully garners governmental respect.
[NB Even more so now, after the news of Ford's 1,400 job losses across Dagenham and Southampton (transit van plant), in addition to it Belgium plant].
Unlike the TX4, the NV200 is a mass platform derived vehicle, thus dramatically lowering the ex-factory price of the standard, intentionally 'commoditised' vehicle, before modification to PCO standards (ie turning circle, wheelchair access etc). Furthermore even these adaptions may be unnecessary or cheaper to undertake than on 'comparable' Vito, since the van was created for tight Japanese prefecture streets, that its turning circle may already meet the PCO requirement.
Furthermore, in mid 2010 Ford showcased versions of the small Transit Connect dressed in a Yellow Cab livery, highlighting CNG and LPG powertrain options, so obviously demonstrating its suitability as a new global taxi provider to large eco orientated cities.
Returning to The Classic -
It should be recognised that the 1997 TX1 was not simply a re-engineered, re-bodied FX/Fairway – as has been mentioned in the press – but a completely new vehicle. There were very few minor carry-over items (excluding engine types), and as such was purely a spiritual successor to the previous Fairway, itself the last iteration of the 1959 Austin FX4 Taxi.
The new cab was immediately welcomed by the British public and UK motor industry with open arms, and demonstrated that Britain's engineering capabilities could create a utility vehicle to match the reputation of niche British luxury cars and sports cars.
Whilst other attempts had been made to update the black cab – the square-bodied MetroCab the most 'infamous' – none were previously successful given lack of the the 'classic' shape of the FX4, hence the retro-body of the TX series.
Given the historically high price of Black Taxis, high valuations seemingly aligned to the high value of the necessary 'green badge' license, TX volume production numbers pertained roughly to the demand levels of a then deeply regulated trade.
The initial business model for TX vehicle was to seek the customer mix between owner-operators and fleet-operators would provide for a mix of high margin unit sales for the former (seeking more luxury) and lower margin but higher volume sales for the latter (seeking to better 'sweat' the company assets via multi-driver, round the clock use). So a three tier trim moniker was used – Bronze, Silver and Gold – reflecting ever better features. However, in the midst of growing competition from Mercedes, the most recent variants are named 'Style' and 'Elegance': the latter a well known trim variant for Mercedes-Benz products.
When the variant naming change occurred it demonstrated that MBH itself felt that it was loosing its historic near monopolistic grasp of the sector.
A Time for TX Re-Incarnation -
Quite obviously, and inevitably after 15 years, the TX series has aged. Not simply in its own right, but critically relative to the influx of newer rivals from far larger and typically much financially stronger volume manufacturers.
Thus beyond the efforts seen to date, primarily 'running lean' and the Geely Auto JV, in order to try and secure its own future MBH executives (prompted by Grant Thornton) must seek to create a new vision for the future of the TX series.
This must be centred around the Mayoral (so TfL administered) 'Clean Air Strategy' set out in 2010 :
“The aim is to produce a taxi with a 60 per cent improvement in fuel economy by 2015 (based on current levels) and capable of zero tail pipe emission operation by 2020. The introduction of such vehicles will deliver significant air quality benefits. There are a variety of promising propulsion and power technologies which could see hybrid, plug-in electric, full-electric and fuel cell taxis on London’s roads in the future. The Mayor will establish a financial incentive scheme that will offer a reduction on the purchase prices of qualifying vehicles to London’s taxi drivers.
[NB Whilst the ambition is to be applauded, investment-auto-motives believes that achievement of low and zero emissions is a 'whole vehicle' issue, thus affecting the weight/mass and efficiency of all systems, thus providing an open door for conventional ICE technology which is more affordable].
In reply to the 'Clean Air Strategy' MBH previously highlighted the adaption of prototype TX bodyshell(s) to house a completely electric drivetrain; the EV project partnered with Tanfield Vehicles, best known for modification of panel van and chassis-cab vans to EV. Little has been heard since, given Tanfield Group's own commercial restructuring with America's Smiths Electric Vehicles, but it is assumed that the TX EV project has been shelved with Smiths for the present.
[NB an alternative car-based operator Green Tomato Cars has now stated that it will bring EV versions of the Chinese made (Berkshire Hathaway backed) BYD e6 to London; whether this is just a publicity grabbing exercise in the light of MBH struggles, or true 'live' initiative remains to be seen].
Whilst the full EV route appears the magic potion for what is obviously a heavy vehicle, such technology cannot conceivably be applied as a mass-market application. Beyond probable production constraints and high installation and so ex-factory product costs, cab drivers have heard many EV horror stories over the decades, and by and large would prefer an all ICE or Hybrid (even PHEV) solution...whichever wholly reliable system provides themselves with maximum earning power.
Thus investment-auto-motives views the only correct avenue for life extension of the TX4, after Euro 5 and 6 to be the triple aspect adoption of:
1b. Select internal structural items
1c. Select ancillary items (eg radiator etc)
(these to be aluminium and basic composites)
2. Powertrain Sourcing
2a Optimal 'long-life' VM sourced engine (bias to Volvo unit)
2b. Advanced lower cost 'bolt-on' eco-tech
3. Parts Sourcing
3a. Major focus on improving quality of Chinese made components
This intentionally evolutionary route is typical of any cash-constrained vehicle development programme, retaining as much previously amortised engineering as possible, whilst providing a 'staircase' type technology strategy over the next 15 years. But critically retaining the classic TX body shape which, for all the vehicle's woes to drivers, is by far its primary USP.
Any other route would seem foolhardy given the economic advantages to MBH.
Chinese Whispers -
Geely Auto's near 20% stake of course gave its far greater strategic interest in the fortunes of MBH, of course viewing it as a useful component of its own vehicle empire. This spans Volvo Cars at the premium level to the Emgrande brand sold as 'domestic premium' to the Englon brand (into which the TX4 is uncomfortably slotted) to the Gleagle at entry level.
The TX4/Englon business model developed thus far sees envisages an annual production rate of 40,000 units, with the core vehicle – and critically development off-shoots - being spread across new segments, including not only the conventional city centre taxi market, but also a limousine taxi variant and two premium sedan variants for other commercial and private buyers.
[NB it appears that – typically for a production orientated, supply-led economy such as China – that the TX4 is being made to fit into a company strategy that is intentionally 'capacity-centric' so as to underpin the domestic growth aspirations, and export ambitions, of Geely Auto; and of course China itself].
Geely's ownership of Volvo Cars is an undeniable massive advantage, both as a respected marque across the world, but perhaps as powerfully the ability to draw from Volvo eco-orientated vehicle systems technologies that can be deployed elsewhere across the group's other divisions, MBH/LTC a prime potential beneficiary.
The unfortunate fact is that the UK is ultimately not the best location for what is still, in automotive terms, a relatively low priced niche product - versus 'big ticket' sportscar and specialist vehicle peers.
The primary internal and external headwinds are that: it demands large levels of low-skilled and semi-skilled labour, which typically demands wage levels inconsistent with the global norm for such work. It is also set within the industrial context of greatly increased competition from heavily automated VMs using low-cost in-house or farmed-out modifiers dedicated to the adaption of mainstream passenger vans to black cab and other dedicated task variants.
In short, the volume producers have intentionally created business models to out-flank the likes of MBH/LTC, utilisng the best of both worlds: much amortised basic platforms and vehicles (especially so for vans) and highly cost effective SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) cost centres.
There may be a case for maintaining an assembly section in Coventry, thus re-appointing the status qou in which CKD units are exported from China into the UK for full assembly and finish. But it would need to operate with truly competitive fixed and variable cost rates, meaning a highly flexible workforce operating as autonomously as possible meaning a heavy bias toward 'rounded apprenticeships' including multi-tasking and job-sharing, with a very lean group of highly influential and respected affordable managers to deploy a younger, more affordable and more flexible workforce.
Since 2008 Manganese Bronze / LTC has come under immense business pressure, firstly from obvious macro-level trends, and secondly from an ever growing competitive environment in which what was once a heavily tilted (virtually monopolistic) playing field has been made more and more level.
MBH and Geely must together learn as much as possible from the 'new champions' of the taxi market and their routes to market via the likes of Eco City, and equally leverage as much knowledge as feasible from internally across the increasingly powerful Geely Group.
Though presently it appears that Geely Auto has stepped back from its ties with MBH/LTC, it seems highly likely that a growth orientated Geely Auto seeking to make its global name with iconic foreign marques and nameplates will ultimately seek to buy the assets of Manganese Bronze, and so take up a majority or full share.
The question remains exactly what route will be used to do so? Use of a proxy company to 'invisibly' access a packaged liquidation, use of a co-opted private equity company to pick and choose from the whole 'carcass', or multi-party proxies via a fire sale, so as to individually pick-up different elements of the whole to be latterly re-assembled?
With a £3 million MarketCap, many involved in investment banking, private equity and the auto industry will see it as a highly compelling proposition. But as ever its the full Enterprise Value, via its component parts, that must be fully calculated before thoughts of other future EVs can be entertained.
Post Script -
To update the web-log: The Telegraph's Business pages (29.10.2012) published a letter from the Mayor regards latest developments of possible MetroCab based EV taxi.
[NB MetroCab 'as was' had been the maker of previous generation taxis, was owned by KamKorp (which presently also owns Bristol Cars) and appears to have been passed onto Ecotive Limited. This company seemingly continuing the Fraser-Nash associated development of an EV black cab. Exactly how much credibility actually sits within this proposal - given the need for a major technical update of the whole vehicle - remains to be seen].