DETROIT -- The Ford Crown Victoria sedan, which has been the workhorse of New Yorks 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 Yorks taxi commission were at the auto show this week to discuss their Taxi of Tomorrow project with major automakers.
We met with all of the major automobile manufacturers, commission Chairman Matthew Daus told Automotive News. Were taking this as an opportunity to ask manufacturers to custom-build the utopian cab for us.
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 thats 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 said.
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. Were 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. Its perfect for what it does.
Spinella said Ford would benefit if it continued to dominate the New York fleet, but that doesnt 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 Im 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 citys fleet includes hybrids, vans and SUVs from a number of automakers, but Daus said there isnt a vehicle now on the market that can solve the citys 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 Fords ace in the hole, Spinella said, adding that if Ford could strip it down, the car could be sold at a cheaper price.
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 cab.
Said Spinella: It might be in Toyotas 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.