July 5, 2018 / 12:27 PM / a year ago

London electric cab maker joins in Brexit warnings

BERLIN (Reuters) - The London EV Company, the maker of London’s familiar black cabs, has joined a chorus of carmakers warning about the impact that a hard Brexit could have on business, with its chairman saying it could dismantle Britain’s rejuvenated car industry.

An electric version of the London taxi cab build by London EV Company (LEVC) is seen during a presentation in Berlin, Germany, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Britain’s biggest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover said earlier a so-called “hard Brexit” would cost it 1.2 billion pounds ($1.59 billion) a year, curtailing its future operations in the United Kingdom.

Uncertainty over Brexit has halved new investment in the British car industry, the country’s main car lobby group said last month.

“What we really worry about is if there are big difficulties transporting goods via the Channel, whether it’s increased costs, or anything else,” Carl-Peter Forster, chairman of LEVC, told journalists in Berlin at the launch of its electric taxi in Germany.

“Even with no tariffs, lorries could still be stuck at the border for days,” he said, highlighting how the industry relied on frictionless supply chains to transport components and assembled vehicles back and forth across the Channel.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is also in Berlin on Thursday, meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel, for Brexit talks.

One-third of LEVC’s suppliers are in the UK, another third in Europe and the rest elsewhere in the world, Chief Executive Chris Gubbey said.

LEVC, owned by China’s Geely (0175.HK), invested 300 million pounds ($398 million) in a new plant in Ansty near Coventry when it made the shift to electric vehicles, the first new automotive plant to be built in Britain in over a decade.

Forster, a Britain-born German, said that, “if the wrong decision is made”, people should have no illusions about the extent of the impact on Britain’s car industry which has been undergoing a revival in terms of manufacturing in recent years.

“You won’t see it overnight, it’s a process that will take 10-15 years.... It would be madness to wake up in the morning in London and read in the papers that there are virtually no carmakers in Britain, it would be a real shame.”

Forster was speaking as LEVC launched the electric version of the traditional black London taxi cab in Germany, where the market is dominated by Daimler’s (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes, in which Geely also owns a 10 percent stake.

LEVC hopes that the electric taxi, which is available in the more typical beige colour of German taxi cabs, will find takers as a debate about clean air and urban mobility rages.

It is close to finalising a deal with sister company Volvo for sales and servicing in Germany.

LEVC isn’t likely to seriously challenge Mercedes, however, with Gubbey saying that it was looking to sell hundreds, rather than thousands, of taxis in Germany.

Gubbey said that he wasn’t seeing Brexit having any impact on negotiations with potential customers.

Along with the Netherlands, Norway and now Germany, LEVC is also in negotiations in France and has plans to expand to customers outside of Europe from next year, particularly in the UAE, Australia, Singapore and China.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Jan Harvey

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