By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - A new electric version of London's classic black cabs will be exported to Amsterdam next year, its first overseas market, and the firm could source the batteries in Britain, the head of the Chinese-owned London Taxi Company (LTC) told Reuters on Tuesday.
LTC, which will formally change its name to the London EV Company later this year, is undergoing a rapid expansion since it was bought by China's Geely in 2013, opening a central English plant in Coventry, earlier this year.
By the turn of the decade it hopes to sell to overseas markets 50 percent of the roughly 10,000 vehicles to be produced each year, including a van which could begin production in 2019, and has been showing the new electric plug-in hybrid taxi in a number of European cities.
Chief Executive Chris Gubbey said the firm had picked the Netherlands as its first export market due to its receptiveness to new technology and the new model's compatibility with the needs of disabled people, including its ramp and high roof.
"It is a city that is very progressive in terms of protecting and improving its air quality," he told Reuters.
"They just recognise what the product can do for their market: the accessibility, the ease of getting in and out," he said.
Dutch firm RMC is buying 225 vehicles which Amsterdammers will not be able to hail but will be instead used as a part of a service to transport the elderly and disabled, including to and from hospital, and could soon also be used in Rotterdam.
The TX model will go into full production later this year, ready to reach the first customers in around November, with a third of components British and the rest built abroad, including a Korean battery and Chinese engine.
The British car industry has boosted local content in recent years, reaching 44 percent, but the level remains short of the 55 percent stipulated in the kinds of bilateral trade agreements Britain will need to strike as it leaves the European Union.
The country is currently deficient in battery and electric vehicle production capacities compared with other major markets but ministers are pushing to boost infrastructure and could shortly approve its first electric car battery hub.
Gubbey, who was at an industry event in May where the proposals were made to Britain's business minister, said the firm could source batteries locally if such schemes came to fruition.
"There are opportunities to move batteries towards the UK," he told Reuters.
"The government is very focussed on that, even local to us, with the technology park that they are talking of putting in a manufacturing capability," he said.
As the firm grows and with fellow Geely-owned brand Volvo raising 5 billion Swedish crowns ($590 million) from a group of investors in a step towards a share market flotation, Gubbey told Reuters there were no plans at present for the cab-maker to also move in the direction of a share listing.
"We have no definitive timing or plan to pursue an IPO at this stage," he said.
"In the future, if that proves the right thing to do, I'm sure it's what Geely will look at."
(This version of the story was refiled to remove redundant word 'which' in paragraph 8)
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)