New York City taxis have generally been front engine, rear drive sedans with ample trunk space and passenger room. The number one criteria for a successful cab platform is its ability to withstand years of abuse, rack up millions of miles with a minimal amount of service and share parts with thousands of other cabs across the city. Attempts to introduce front wheel drive minivans have met with failure, since they simply don’t hold up to the abuse cabbies dish out on a regular basis. If you’ve ever taken a cab up, down or across town, you’ll understand perfectly well what I’m talking about. New York city cabbies are generally recent immigrants (usually from countries who’d love to the see the US turned into a smoking pit in the ground), and they hold the same regard for human life as do serial killers. Never, under any circumstances, tell a New York City cabbie to “step on it”, unless you’re willing to face the consequences.
New York wants to phase out the venerable Ford Crown Vic cab and replace it with one of three finalists from the “Taxi of Tomorrow” bid solicitation. Gone is the front engine, rear drive layout. Gone is the ample sheetmetal. Gone is the familiar big sedan layout, and gone is the ability to swap pieces and parts from junkyards, other taxi companies or even retired police fleets. I don’t know how the public will react to this, but I can guarantee that taxi companies are going to hate their options.
First up is perhaps the most logical and economical choice. Ford’s Transit Connect is the worldwide standard for small commercial vans, and it’s been around in one format or another since roughly the Mesozoic era. Configured as a taxi, it’s got plenty of head room and legroom, but I hope the Taxi and Limousine Commission requires a steel mesh cargo area. Ever catch a packed suitcase upside the head when a cabbie decides to test how quickly he can stop? Arguments against the Transit Connect are its front engine, front drive layout (more expensive and more difficult to maintain than conventional front engine, rear drive cabs) and anemic engine. A two liter inline four that makes less than 140 horsepower isn’t going to be well received, particularly when moped will show you taillights off the line without passengers. On the plus side, the Transit Connect should have the strongest manufacturer support, since Ford really doesn’t wan to lose the business they built up with the Crown Vic.
Next up is the Nissan NV200, another cargo-van-turned taxi design. It’s a fairly new design, and has only been on the market in Japan and the EU since 2009. It’s got street cred, though: it won the Professional Van And Light Truck Magazine “Van of the Year” award in 2010. Like the Ford Transit Connect, the NV200 will be big on head room and legroom, and will also need a luggage cage to keep passengers from being dismembered by their baggage. Up front, the NV 200 packs a 1.6 liter four cylinder engine, which only puts out about 105 horsepower and also powers the front wheels. Sadly, the NV200 could be the only vehicle on the streets losing drag races to the Ford Transit Connect.
The dark horse in the race is from a Turkish company called Karsan. The Karsan V1 is the only finalist that is fully wheelchair accessible, as each V1 comes equipped with wheelchair ramps and a dedicated wheelchair space in the interior. I couldn’t find details on the motor or the drivetrain, except that it’s designed to be built as either and electric vehicle or a gasoline powered vehicle. In Turkey, Karsan partners with Peugeot to build the Partner crossover and the Boxer van, so it’s likely that the Karsan V1 will use a Peugeot motor. That won’t score them any points in the United States, since Peugeot sold their last car here in the early 1990s. Reliability and parts availability are two more unknowns, and Karsan simply won’t have the resources to compete against the likes of Ford or Nissan.
Like the Checker cabs of old, the NYC Crown Vics will soon fade into the sunset. Enjoy a last ride in one when you can, because it’s not likely you’ll ever see a car as overbuilt as the Crown Vic again.