Change. Progress. Environment. Old taxis.
Morocco is changing. Having vivid and fond memories from the heyday of CAR magazine in the seventies and eighties where a story headed off towards (or perhaps away from) the Sahara, or following the sinuous roads through the Atlas Mountains; images enticing us with not only the car in question but the souks and markets, faraway towns and remote villages that could’ve been from a thousand years ago, not merely thirty or so. One could almost feel the heat, smell the cooking aromas and taste the diesel fumes.
For usually at the rear of at least one photograph and almost certainly described within the report, the ubiquitous taxi would be parked there. Tatty in bodywork, everlasting in use and wearing a three pointed star on the front. Or not, for those chrome embellishments are coveted by the light fingered brigade the world over. This leaves the car with either a gaping radiator grille or a hole at the bonnets front, lending that forlorn yet plucky demeanour to its snout. Working class but honest.
No real matter, for a trip to Red Casablanca is all that’s necessary to ascertain those required spare parts. From those stars to axles, panels to gearboxes – it’s all there, brought in from Germany. This status quo on the parts trade has been so for years.
A potted Moroccan taxi history. The petit taxi is exactly what it says on the tin; a small hatchback of either French or Italian origin and allowed to carry driver and “a maximum of three passengers.” Ideal for buzzing between those market stands, narrow streets and the harbour front. They are metered for price and require hailing.
The Grand taxi is where those wearing a W moniker reside; 123’s, 124’s are the most common with the odd 114 Stroke 8 and 126’s still doing the rounds, thrown in for good measure. Plying their trade transporting more passengers and luggage or supplies due to their size. Whereas the petit is restricted to town, the Grand is open for any form of business, from airport to hotel or across the nation. Price is determined by haggling with the driver and can vary wildly.
And each town or city has their own colour scheme – pistachio green for Mohammedia. A shade of ochre for Marrakesh. Several separate towns share yellow (Beni Mellal) and red (Casablanca ) whereas the capital Rabat has Tiffany Blue.
The youngest Grand is far from being a teenager, the eldest being over forty and the government wants a more modern transport approach. Step forward Dacia. With a scrappage scheme offering a subsidy of 80,000 dirhams (approximately 8,000 Euro’s) the jump from a large wheelbase, comfy if basic interior and diesel powered old Mercedes to a Lodgy is marked. Loyalty to the star is strong although the strength of Renault’s sub-brand is gaining.
Five years have passed since Mustapha Chaoun, then Secretary General of Morocco’s transport professionals stated that the approximately 50,000 taxis operating in the country were in need of updating. The Somaca (Societé Marocaine de Constructions Automobile’s) plant just outside Casablanca has been making various forms of Fiats, Austin’s and even Opel’s from 1959 – from 1995, the Fiat Uno, Palio and Sienna models. Renault muscled in and by 2005 held a majority share in not only the Somaca plant but invested in a much bigger facility just outside Tangiers.
Opened by King Mohammed IV and everyone’s favourite fugitive, one C. Ghosn in 2012, and continues to grow. The old Somaca has an 80,000 per year capacity; Tangier’s can shift 340,000 Dacia’s and with dedicated links to the port, exports them globally. The plant generates its power from a mixture of wind power and burning tons of crushed olive stones. Even the ash can be used as a fertiliser. That most precious commodity in a desert state, water, gets recycled by reverse osmosis which I’m led to believe is not the latest trending You Tube viewing. Tangier’s plant is heralded as being the world’s most energy efficient facility – that measurement must cause headaches.
In general, the more long in the tooth taxi driver will favour his Merc over the locally made Lodgy. Having served much time and many miles with such hardy machinery, easy parts access and should a repair be necessary, could easily be performed in a souk corner. The idea of taking your taxi to a dealer being anathema to such dyed in the wool aficionados of the olde world.
But of course old is indeed just that – the past. The younger Moroccan taxi driver will be more than satisfied with a modern, spacious, economical and Internet connected-ready car of today for that is probably all they know and aspire to. There can’t be many twenty-somethings aching for a classic car anywhere in the world in which to earn their crust. Where does the USB fit?
The last vestiges of the old Merc taxi world are slipping by. Dacia (or with that subsidy, maybe a Renault Traffic van…) will no doubt rule the roost in swiftly passing time. Should you wish to try and get one last ride in, to our eyes, a German delicacy of the automotive world, best book an autumnal (pandemic allowing) flight to Northern-most Africa, pronto. The next cab along will have an altogether different flavour.