Although recent crises like the UK foot and mouth epidemic and the terrorism in New York have slashed tourism levels in the short term, the general market for taxis and hire cars in Europe has been growing for many years.
Indeed, sometimes it's very difficult to get hold of a hire car at some European destinations. The alternative to hiring a car is to hail a cab at the airport — something that more and more of us are doing, particularly for shorter journeys. But has anyone thought what happens to all those European taxis when it comes to the time to de-fleet? Any traveller, be it on business or holiday, cannot help but notice the vast differences in colour combinations at taxi ranks at airports. These range from plain beige in most of Germany to black cars with yellow doors in Barcelona.
The variety of cars and colours is enormous. Often there is no established time for the taxis to be replaced. It is simply down to the owner. But most do not wait until the vehicle falls to bits before replacing it as they become increasingly uneconomical to repair.
What happens to these well-used vehicles often depends on the country. The small minority get repainted, put into the open market and sold as 'ordinary' cars on the used market, going through the normal sales channels and possibly ending up with a new owner who is unaware of its previous life.
But by far the most common route for disposal is to export them to less well-off countries, where the stigma of using an ex-taxi is of little importance. There it is more important to find cheap vehicles that actually work.
Many cars from Germany go to eastern Europe, including Romania and Bulgaria. In the main, a large percentage remain in their original beige colour.
Other areas that accept these cars include the Middle East and North Africa. The destination of a car is the deciding factor in whether it gets a new coat of paint.
If the taxi is going to a warm climate it will probably be painted white before it starts its journey, but if the destination climate is less warm for the majority of the year, then the car will remain in its original colour. Any panels that are different to the rest are repainted to match.
The taxi business is huge and it is difficult to get an accurate estimate of the total number in use, and how many hit the used market every year throughout Europe.
Mercedes-Benz sells more than 10,000 new taxis in Germany alone each year, and Audi is now supplying about 8,000 vehicles. SEAT's annual taxi sales are in excess of 1,200 in Spain. Multiply these figures around Europe and the number is very large and each one of them has to be sold on eventually.
I was in Majorca recently and in one relatively small area there were 188 taxis in operation.
But with vastly improved communications over the years and a more efficient logistics network for moving cars around from country to country, then selling ex-taxis is made so much easier.
In the right-hand drive UK market it's less easy — especially because many taxis are the uniquely-built London Cab. These vehicles will see their years out on British roads and never see any sunshine.
But for all the thousands of taxis in service around western Europe, their retirement days are probably many years and many miles away. (December 2001)