Jim Armitage: Turning traditional black cabs 'bland' is taking its toll

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The Independent Online

Outlook As property developers turn acres of London into characterless dead-zones of glass and steel equally fitting for Arizona or Beijing, we should cheer the travails of Eco City Vehicles. This is the company whose success is tied to the demise of that pleasing London landmark, the traditional black cab.

Eco City's Mercedes Vito cars may still be black and driven by cockney cabbies with the Knowledge. But they're really just glorified people carriers, with the bland international ubiquity of a Starbucks latte. Now Eco City is struggling because of stiff competition, having sold 543 units (the kindest noun for them) last year compared with 561 in 2012. Its share price fell 10 per cent yesterday.

Sadly, though, its plight isn't down to a resurgence of the classic model, known in the trade as the LTI and made by the now Chinese-owned Manganese Bronze. It's the prospect of new rival offerings on the rank from Nissan and Metrocab that's causing sales to stall. The Metrocab is a charm-stripped, boxy eco-copy of the LTI, while Nissan's effort looks like a Micra in a fatsuit. Not a great prospect for London.

These dulling-down makeovers in the capital are mystifying. Ask the average Londoner or visitor to the city if they prefer the old winding streets of Covent Garden or Land Securities' new skyscrapers in Victoria and they'll plump for Covent Garden every time. The same, I'm sure, goes for the traditional taxis. Nobody voted for bland cabs on bland streets, but we seem to get them anyway.