Leading the negotiations for Nissan was Joe Castelli, a former Ford commercial vehicle executive who now is Nissan's vice president of commercial vehicles and fleet business. Only a month ago, Castelli led the launch of Nissan's first commercial vehicle in the United States, a large commercial van that competes head-to-head with Ford's E-series vans and General Motors' Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana.
Until then, Nissan had not been a player in the U.S. commercial vehicle market, although it sells vehicles including delivery trucks and taxis in markets around the world.
"Beating that competitor was not a piece of cake," Tavares said of beating its larger U.S. competitor. "The merit goes to Joe Castelli. He did the job. He pulled resources from across the company and carry the flag. He was very persistent."
Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said Ford has provided New York's taxis for a long time.
"We were happy to participate in this bidding program. It’s not over yet. Our Transit Connect is well received in many parts of the country. We’ll continue to work with the city of New York and will put various Transit Connects throughout the city.”
New York's nod will now set bigger plans in motion for Nissan.
The official New York taxi -- an exclusive deal that replaces 16 current taxi manufacturers beginning in 2013 -- will be Nissan's new NV200 small van. The vehicle is designed off of Nissan's global B-segment platform, which also yields the Versa in the United States.
The Versa is made in Mexico, but the NV200 is built in Japan, Spain and China, and not yet sold in the United States.
That will now change.
To supply taxis to New York, Nissan will produce the NV200 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and also prepare a version of the vehicle for Nissan's U.S. retailers, Tavares said. In addition, Nissan intends to build an electric version of the NV200 -- including an electric New York taxi -- for the United States.
"That makes sense," Tavares said. "If you want to improve the quietness in New York and improve the quality of the air, there is no reason to exclude that."
But first, the city's cabbies will have to be confident about how electric vehicles work. Part of the new contract calls for Nissan to give the city six electric Leafs in order to study how electric cars perform in city driving and how they recharge under heavy use.
Nissan also now intends to begin to solicit other major cities for taxi dealers. Nissan sought the contract also as a means of getting more U.S. consumers to experience a Nissan product, considering the large number of tourists who visit New York.
"This is going to give Nissan not only visibility," Tavares said, "but also high credibility."
Jamie LaReau contributed to this report.