NY Auto Show: Big Yellow Taxi

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered all city taxis to operate on hybrid engines by 2012 as part of his drive to reduce air pollution. The city’s conventionally powered cabs—namely Ford Crown Victorias— currently get about 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) a gallon of gasoline. After the transition, city taxis, Bloomberg has said, will meet a 30 miles-a-gallon standard.

Ford has been selling Hybrid Escapes into the fleet as a trial. But they are far from ideal taxis. Ford has hybrid Fusions coming to market. But these, too, are too small and light, for the rugged punishment taxis get. Besides size and trunk space, cabbies like the Crown Vics for the durable body-on-frame construction.

Hybrids will also cost the owner-operators around $6,000-$7,000 more than their current choices.

Ford execs say they want to try and retain taxi business, but worry the hybrid vehicles and fuel economy standard is too stiff to meet. So, Ford is introducing the Mayor’s office and the Taxi & Limousine Commission to the idea of a Ford Transit Connect taxi. The environmental benefits over the Crown Vics: With its standard, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, Transit Connect delivers estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city - a more than 30 percent improvement in fuel economy and nearly 90 percent lower tailpipe emissions than many of today’s traditional taxis.

Anyone traveling in London know that Londoners have it all over Americans when it comes to proper taxis. London cabs are a joy to ride in, except for the bill when the dollars to pounds fare is calculated.

There are other yellow cabs, of course. First generation Isuzu-built Honda Odysseys have been used, as have minivans and Ford Explorers. Before they were discontinued, Chevy Caprices, also body-on-frame built, were utilized as cabs. But Ford haas the lion’s share of the taxi fleet business, as well as the “black car” business of executive car-service livery. The Lincoln Town Car is the King of that business.

We sat in the Taxi concept, and likes it a lot. AutoBeat thinks the Mayor’s office should consider the Transit Connect as the next yellow cab and not get obsessed with hybrids. And we bet Joni Mitchell agrees with us.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.