New York TLC Moves to Allow Continued Hybrid Sales
Nissan has lost, at least for now, its expected exclusive rights to supply new taxis to New York City cabbies, a monopoly position for its gasoline-fueled NV200-based “Taxi of Tomorrow” that was supposed to take effect at the end of October. Nissan maintains that its ToT will do the job in New York, and indicated that a hybrid electric version is likely to follow the gasoline-fueled taxi soon entering production in Mexico.
The NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission has proposed amendments to its complicated and much sued-over regulation to allow other hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles to continue to be sold for “hack-up,” provided they meet certain specifications.
The assumption is that the ToT will again be the mandated vehicle for New York when a hybrid version becomes available. Nissan says formally that a hybrid version of its ToT “is being explored for the future,” but commercial vehicles VP Joe Castelli says that electrification of the ToT makes “natural sense.” A hybrid version of the ToT fits with the firm’s avowed commitment to the Leaf and to world vehicle electrification.
Advantage Toyota – For Now
Toyota appears to be the biggest beneficiary of the proposed TLC rule change, as its Prius V (the largest of the Prius line) hatchback and Highlander Hybrid SUV are believed to fit the agency’s new requirements for luggage and passenger space. (As of F&F presstime, TLC had yet to issue an approved list of vehicles.)
Toyota already enjoys 25% to 26% share of the 13,000-unit yellow medallion taxi market in New York, mostly via sales of its Camry Hybrid, with smaller numbers of Prius cars and Highlander Hybrids, says New Jersey-based Northeast fleet field manager Tom Voll. The Camry, he notes, will fall off the TLC approval list in the fall – assuming the current TLC proposal stands.
Many drivers needing to replace their cars, sources agree, are doing so before the October 28 deadline, benefiting the Camry Hybrid.
And, says one, who notes that the TLC rules have been subject to numerous lawsuits already, “The industry may challenge the narrowness of the allowable hybrids.”
As the TLC wavers and the playing field shifts, “we are confident that the Nissan NV200 Taxi of Tomorrow will be a superior solution that is optimal in safety, comfort and convenience for passengers and drivers alike,” Nissan said in a statement following the TLC’s June 20 turnaround.
Nissan VP Castelli told F&F that production of the gasoline ToT will begin in Cuernavaca, Mexico early next month, and that Nissan anticipates sales of 2,300 to 2,400 units per year in New York as existing medallion taxis are retired. Nissan has begun to enlist local dealers, who have to show they can handle taxi maintenance requirements. Six to nine dealers will suffice to start, Castelli says.
Nissan has been working on the Taxi of Tomorrow initiative since early 2008, he says, noting that the highly visible vehicles are an intrinsic part of Nissan’s broader entry into commercial vehicles in the U.S. The ToT is a “purpose-built commercial vehicle,” he emphasizes, as compared with most taxis, which are modified passenger cars. It has been fully crash-tested, with all taxi equipment in place, including partitions, meters and rear air-conditioning.
Fuel economy on test vehicles indicates that drivers can expect 24 to 25 miles per gallon, Castelli says.
No Hump, Bonus Acreage
The ToT is being built for ready installation of wheelchair accessibility equipment, he adds, has “brail on the grab-handles” for the benefit of the visually handicapped, and includes such New York-requested features as a panoramic moon roof for skyscraper-gawking tourists.
There is no interior transmission shaft hump, and the vehicle, while boasting more room inside, is smaller on the outside than conventional taxis. Nissan says that if the entire New York taxi fleet were switched from Crown Victoria sedans to the ToT, it would free up five acres of street space.
In line with its grand electrification strategy, Nissan earlier this year donated six fully battery electric Leaf cars to be used as taxis in New York – four are thus far in service. The project includes Chademo-protocol DC quick chargers allowing drivers to charge their electric cabs “quickly during their shift” – to about 80% in less than 30 minutes, Nissan says.
‘The Taxi of the Day After Tomorrow’
Nissan will generate data indicating that for midtown driving, a battery electric taxi may well prove suitable, Castelli says.
“Our relationship with the city provides us the ultimate proving ground to conduct this Leaf taxi pilot to help optimize the use of electric vehicle technology for future applications,” he said in an Earth Day release.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg referred to “the taxi of the day after tomorrow” in the Nissan Leaf announcement, and reiterated a goal of a one-third all-electric taxi fleet by 2020.
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Source: New York City TLC and Nissan with Fleets & Fuels follow-up