Having spent the bulk of my adult life living near NYC, I’ve got an affinity for NYC taxis and the misfits who drive them. Generally speaking, a proper NYC cab is a massive, American made rear-drive beast that handles like a garbage barge (and smells about the same). Taxi drivers, who come from every forgotten third-world country on the planet, exhibit uncanny car control skills and have not a single fear. I’ve driven race tracks at speed with FIA licensed drivers that did not demonstrate the ‘testicular fortitude’ of the average NYC cabbie.
When Chevy stopped building the rear wheel drive Caprice in 1996, NYC cab companies began to look for alternatives beyond the venerable Ford Crown Victoria. Ultimately, they rolled out a fleet of Honda Odyssey minivans. This proved to be a disaster, as the front wheel drive Hondas proved no match for the grueling life of a NYC cab. Potholes ate alloy wheels for breakfast, with a side order of half shafts. Maintenance that was quick and easy on a Crown Vic or Caprice proved to be more complex on the Odyssey, and cab companies realized that a front wheel drive minivan was not a good substitute for a rear wheel drive sedan. Most companies abandoned the experiment, and today some 90% of cabs in NYC are Crown Vics.
Enter the Ford Transit Connect, a vehicle that Ford hopes to pitch to NYC’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for approval. Shown at the upcoming Chicago Auto Show as a compressed natural gas vehicle, the Transit Connect fits nicely into Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s “green taxi” initiative. Here’s the problem: the Transit Connect, like the Honda Odyssey, is a front wheel drive, unibody construction light duty vehicle. In fact, the Transit Connect uses a platform originally developed for the first global Ford Focus.
Given the TLC requirement that New York taxis must be updated every six years, the jury is out on whether or not the Transit Connect will prove durable or cost effective enough. Ford has a lot on the line here, and they need to present a viable alternative to the Crown Vic to meet New York’s standards. The Transit Connect may be their best shot at retaining the business.