New York taxi boss shops for new cabs
Crown Vic's dominance in Big Apple may end
January 18, 2008 - 4:23 pm ET
DETROIT -- The Ford Crown Victoria sedan, which has been the workhorse
of New York's taxicab fleet, could be history.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission is shopping for a new
generation of cars to be phased in to its fleet of about 13,000 yellow
cabs. Officials from New York's taxi commission were at the auto show
this week to discuss their Taxi of Tomorrow project with major
" We met with all of the major automobile manufacturers," commission
Chairman Matthew Daus told Automotive News. " We're taking this as an
opportunity to ask manufacturers to custom-build the utopian cab for
Daus said such a cab would be reasonably priced, fuel efficient,
accessible for passengers with disabilities and distinctively styled.
To help draft specifications for the cab project, the commission has
contracted with the suburban Detroit operations of the U.K. automotive
engineering and technology firm Ricardo PLC as a consultant.
Specifications will be sent to every major automaker in about a month,
Daus said. He declined to name specific companies.
The Crown Victoria has been the dominant cab in the New York fleet for
years. While about 18 percent of the city-administered fleet is
supplied by other automakers, Ford has a taxi program that alters
Crown Victorias on request.
" The difference between the Ford Crown Victoria and every other
vehicle that's out there is that Ford is the only one that came up
with a taxi package program, a commercial-vehicle initiative where
they actually tailor the vehicle over the years to make it a better
taxi," Daus said. " The other manufacturers have not authorized
specifically a program to use these vehicles as taxis."
In 2001, Ford lengthened Crown Victorias destined to be in the cab
fleet by about 6 inches, upon request by the city of New York, Daus
But rising fuel costs, environmental awareness, recently increased
fuel economy standards for New York cabs and the inevitable demise of
the Crown Victoria are pushing the issue.
" The Crown Victoria is basically coming to an end," Daus said. "
We're looking to make our environment cleaner and be more fuel
efficient and save more money for drivers and the owners, so you could
basically say that the Crown Victoria is going to be phased out."
That could upset a lot of New York cab riders. A survey by CNW
Marketing Research, of Bandon, Ore., found that 95 percent of
respondents preferred the Crown Victoria over other New York cabs,
such as the dozen Toyota Prius sedans the city has in its fleet.
" The Crown Vic has been a spectacular fleet car," CNW analyst Art
Spinella said in a phone interview with Automotive News. " It's
perfect for what it does."
Spinella said Ford would benefit if it continued to dominate the New
York fleet, but that doesn't mean it will happen.
Phone messages to Ford Motor were not returned today." If Ford were to
stay doing nothing but Crown Vics for taxis and upgrading them to some
degree, maybe fitting a more fuel-efficient V-6 instead of a V-8 in it
or hybridizing it, they could probably hold on to 70 to 75 percent of
that market," Spinella said. " But I'm not sure that they want to
spend the money to do it."
Big Apple is biggest
New York is the largest purchaser of cabs, according to the Taxicab,
Limousine &Paratransit Association, of Kensington, Md. Second is
Chicago, where the dominant cab also is the Crown Victoria.
New York has been testing other vehicles as it retires and replaces
cabs every three to five years. The city's fleet includes hybrids,
vans and SUVs from a number of automakers, but Daus said there isn't a
vehicle now on the market that can solve the city's needs.
Hybrids could be a viable fleet solution for New York, Spinella said,
citing two nameplates: the Ford Escape Hybrid. and the Prius.
The Escape Hybrid " may be Ford's ace in the hole," Spinella said,
adding that if Ford could strip it down, the car could be sold at a
While the Prius gets poor marks for lack of cargo space, Spinella said
building something larger on the Prius frame could make it a viable
Said Spinella: " It might be in Toyota's best interest to turn the
Prius into a London-taxi-type of vehicle. The Prius is sturdy enough
to be transformed into that type of vehicle."
By taking a chance on a relatively low-volume fleet, the rewards could
be bigger than the initial risk, he said, adding: " If New York does
it, you know Chicago and some other major Eastern cities are going to
do the same thing."