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Exclusive: Geely plans to convert London’s black cab maker to electric

COVENTRY, England, Jan 23 (Reuters) – China’s Geely ( 0175.HK ) is planning a major investment to turn the maker of London’s iconic black cabs into a mass-produced, all-electric brand with a range of commercial and passenger vehicles, unit executives told Reuters.

The London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) is also aiming to expand its suite of services, which include self-driving cars that recognize their owners’ interests to help them book activities.

“We need a developed product portfolio. We need to make big investments in terms of technology and infrastructure,” said LEVC chief executive Alex Nunn at the taxi maker’s headquarters in Coventry, central England. “Geeli will consistently invest in LEVC as this is a very unique project.”

LEVC makes a hybrid taxi model that starts at around £66,000 ($81,500), which has a battery that provides a range of 64 miles (103 km) and a petrol range extender that gives it a total range of over 300 miles. The company’s business has been hit hard by the pandemic and it laid off 140 employees in October.

Nan said LEVC and Geely will seek to attract other investors to their zero-emission portfolio and will seek to partner with other automakers to develop new technology.

Executives said the size of Geely’s investment would be revealed later. So far, the Chinese group, which took full control of LEVC in 2013, has invested £500 million in it.

“Geeli fully supports the new transition strategy put in place by the board and executive team of LEVC,” Geeli said in a statement.

In 2021, Geely launched a £2 billion investment in a second unit, niche British luxury sports car maker Lotus, to massively expand production of its sports cars and build premium SUVs and sedans in Britain and China. Geely is following a similar path in its LEVC development plans, executives said.

Britain’s EV ambitions were dealt a blow last week when start-up Britishvolt, which planned to build a large battery factory in north-east England, filed for administration.

“We need to make sure that the UK environment as a whole is competitive and has its place on the world stage,” said LEVC chief executive Chris Allen.

READY TO ACCELERATE

Geely owns multiple brands including Volvo ( VOLCARb.ST ) and – through a joint venture with Volvo – Polestar. Zeekr, another brand in the group, filed for a US initial public offering last month.

As such, Geely faces complexities that larger electric vehicle makers BID ( 002594.SZ ) and Tesla ( TSLA.O ) have avoided.

Allen said LEVC is exploring a range of commercial and passenger car models on a common electric platform. It can rely on other group brands that already have electric vehicles to “move forward in a fast and agile way.”

The company already uses an infotainment system and software developed by Volvo and the Swedish automaker’s steering wheel, which allows it to keep costs down, Allen said.

“There’s nothing we can’t deliver in a very short period of time if needed, but it’s just a matter of time,” he said, adding that LEVC could easily have a full range of electric vehicles on the road within five years.

“But in two years, will the industry be ready, will the charging infrastructure be there, will the consumer confidence be there?”

LEVC currently has the capacity to build 3,000 taxis a year in one shift at its Coventry factory. Allen said that could easily be increased to 20,000 and the factory has room to expand. It could also rely on manufacturing in China as Lotus has done, Allen said. A large car factory produces an average of about 300,000 vehicles per year.

“There is a tremendous amount of value in our product that has never been maximized,” Allen said. “This is about growing LEVC into a much more recognizable brand globally and expanding our product offering to as many areas as possible.”

($1 = £0.8095)

Reporting by Nick Carey, Additional reporting by Zoe Zhang in Shanghai and Norihiko Shiruzu in Beijing Editing by Mark Potter

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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