NYC ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’ to Be Minivans With Phone Chargers

New York City’s next generation of yellow cabs will be minivans featuring sliding doors, antibacterial seats, airbags in the back and outlets to charge mobile phones.

City officials unveiled the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” manufactured by Nissan Motor Co., at the New York International Auto Show yesterday. The vehicle, on display to the public from April 6 to April 15, was engineered to be durable enough to handle the city’s 6,300 miles (10,136 kilometers) of pothole riddled streets, according to Nissan officials.

New Yorkers will begin hailing the new cabs in the fall of 2013 as the NV200 minivan, priced at $29,700, replaces the city’s fleet of 16 taxi models by 2018. Nissan beat Ford Motor Co. -- maker of the Crown Victoria taxi that’s most common today -- and Turkey’s and Karsan Otomotiv Sanayi & Ticaret AS to clinch the 10-year contract in May.

“The fact that we have been selected means a lot about the versatility of the platform” of Nissan’s NV 200 model, currently available as a cargo-toting van, Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of Nissan and Renault SA, said in an interview, after presenting the cab at a reception yesterday attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “You can adapt this product exactly to the city’s very demanding needs in terms of safety, comfort, fuel efficiency, emissions, modernity.”

Transparent Roof

The Nissan cab will also be equipped with a transparent roof, fuel-efficient engine, flat floors with no hump, 10 inches (25 centimeters) more legroom than a Crown Victoria and more luggage space than most current cabs, according to the city Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Nissan, Japan’s second-biggest automaker after Toyota Motor Corp., expects the cab to be a significant vehicle because of the exposure as New York’s taxi, though it won’t necessarily be a massive seller in overall units, said Tim Gallagher, a company spokesman.

The city’s taxis are currently built by nine manufacturers, dominated by Ford’s discontinued Crown Victoria. New York City is currently the only established taxi market for the NV200 minivan, now sold as a delivery vehicle in Japan and Europe.

The vehicles will be produced in Mexico and fitted for taxi use by American workers, city officials said last May.

It’s the first New York taxi to be crash tested with the partition between driver and passengers installed, Mayor Bloomberg said. The sliding doors will protect riders from risking getting clipped by passing traffic, he said.

10-Year Contract

“This taxi was designed from the inside out and the result is the safest, most comfortable, most passenger-friendly cab to ever ride our streets,” Bloomberg said. “For the first time our city will have a cab designed for those who matter most -- the passengers and drivers.”

The contract is estimated to generate $1 billion in revenue for Nissan over the contract’s 10 years.

The number of cabs will total 15,237, taking into account 2,000 more handicapped-accessible vehicles state lawmakers authorized in December. The mayor had sought the added liveries to reap more than $1 billion for the city’s $68.7 billion 2013 budget.

New York City taxi medallions sell for about $705,000 for individuals and $1 million for corporate operators, according to TLC’s website. Increasing the number of medallions by 2,000 shouldn’t dilute the value for current owners, said TLC Commissioner David Yassky, citing previous expansions of the fleet during the past 20 years.

Antimicrobial Vinyl Resin

“History suggests there’s plenty of demand for them and market value has only continued to increase,” Yassky said in an interview.

About 600,000 riders use taxis each day, and a typical cab might carry about 30 passengers per shift, said TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg.

The new seats will consist of a leather-like fabric woven with an antimicrobial vinyl resin. Odor eaters include passenger-controlled air-filtration and cooling systems, Nissan says on its website. Other amenities include reading lights overhead and floor lighting below. Chargers with 12-volt electric outlets and two USB ports may be used to power up mobile devices.

City officials felt they needed to give one carmaker an exclusive contract to give a manufacturer the incentive to include passenger amenities and durability features while keeping the price low, Yassky said.

Replacing Ford

Until the Nissan cars are available, Ford, based in Dearborn, Michigan, may continue selling its “Transit Connect” taxi model to city cab operators, Fromberg said.

“It is being well received around the country and we’re committed to the business,” said Kevin Koswick, director of Ford’s North American fleet, lease and remarketing division, in an interview after a March 27 speech he gave to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit. “We’ll see where it goes in New York.”

The city’s current fleet of 13,237 now includes 3,983 hybrids, five that run on compressed natural gas and 17 “clean diesel” cabs, according to the commission. Yellow became the uniform color by law in 1967. Cabs have a life cycle of about three to five years, after which they must be replaced.

The company drew criticism yesterday from city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Dov Hikind, a Democratic state Assemblyman from Brooklyn, who called on Nissan to stop conducting business in Iran, where de Blasio said the company sells about 7,500 vehicles a year. Ghosn said the company complies with U.S. and Japanese laws.

“If we didn’t we would stop immediately,” Ghosn said. “We don’t want to take any risk here.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.