Crown Victoria stretches to appeal to taxi fleets

Will a half foot make a difference?

Ford Motor Co. thinks so, and so do some cabbies.

A Crown Victoria with an additional 6 inches of rear seat legroom is aimed at making taxicab passengers more comfortable and giving Ford a larger share of the taxi business. But the car’s price and the uncertainty about the economy could make the car a difficult sell.

Roomier interior

More interior room is important because many cab companies install a shield behind the driver for protection.

“As you put those partitions in, because of their size and the way they fit in, it encroaches on the passenger room,” said Gerald Koss, North American fleet brand team manager.

Even in cities where a shield is not required, if the driver’s seat is pushed all the way back, “you can’t put more than one passenger in the back seat. The right side has room, but the left side has no room at all,” said Edmund Atallah, fleet buyer for San Francisco’s Yellow Cab Co. He plans to order several stretched Crown Victorias.

The stretched Crown Victoria adds about $2,000 to the price of a taxi. The standard taxi has a sticker price of $23,865 including transportation, compared with $25,890 for the stretched version.

Bill Seng, operations manager for Yellow Cab in Chicago, likes increasing passenger legroom. But he said that in a struggling economy, he “wouldn’t pay $2,000 for 6 inches more in the back seat.”

His company has no plans to purchase new cabs.

But one cab company, which declined to be named, expects the purchase price difference between the two models to be closer to about $1,000, once fleet deals are negotiated.

According to the Taxi, Limousine and Paratransit Association in Washington, the nation’s taxi fleet is made up of about 180,000 vehicles. But the association estimates that only 5,000 to 6,000 new taxis are purchased each year. Most of the new taxis are Crown Victorias; the rest include minivans, sport-utilities and the Chevrolet Impala.

Most of the vehicles entering taxi service in the United States each year are used vehicles, many serving their first stint as police cars.

New taxis are mainly sold to fleets in New York, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco, cities that mandate “new” vehicles and/or limit the number of years a vehicle can be used. New York City regulates the biggest taxi fleet: 12,187 cabs, the majority being Crown Victorias.

Ford sold approximately 3,300 taxis last year in the United States and is hoping to boost sales to 5,500 to 5,800 annually — nearly the entire new-taxi market — with the addition of the stretched model.

Longer wheelbase

The automaker expects to sell 2,000 stretched Crown Victorias in the 2002 model year and 3,000 for the 2003 model year. Of those numbers, 90 percent will be for taxi applications and the remaining vehicles for livery services.

Ford will continue to produce the standard model for taxis. Both models will be built at the St. Thomas, Ontario, assembly plant. Production of the stretched model begins in November.

To create the stretched sedan, the wheelbase is extended 6 inches, and a longer roof and doors, and several other upgrades are added.

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