NASHVILLE -- Just days before showing the latest version of its upcoming New York taxi at the city's international auto show, Nissan Motor Co. is still working its way through the political and legal thickets of the venture.
Complaints from taxi owners and advocates for the disabled have resulted in a new partnership between Nissan and wheelchair-van maker Braun Corp. of Winamac, Ind. Braun will customize a wheelchair-accessible version of the taxi, which is based on Nissan's new NV200 compact cargo van.
Nissan beat out Ford Motor Co. and a Turkish vehicle maker to win the hotly sought-after contract to become New York's exclusive taxi supplier for 10 years, starting this fall. The contract, worth about $1 billion to Nissan, is a key underpinning of its entry into the compact cargo van market segment dominated by Ford's Transit Connect.
Nissan dealers will start selling the nontaxi version of the NV200 van next month. But the high-profile taxi piece of the equation has been controversial.
A year ago, when Nissan unveiled its Taxi of Tomorrow at the New York show, sign-carrying protesters dotted the streets around the gathering. They complained that the NV200 taxi was not wheelchair-friendly.
Nissan has resolved that problem through Braun, a company that also converts the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and Chrysler minivans into wheelchair-accessible vehicles. A Nissan spokesman said the company remains on target to begin delivering the taxis in October.
But, in a separate wrinkle, the taxi deal is the subject of a lawsuit. Taxifleet Management LLC and an association of New York cab companies, the Committee for Taxi Safety, are suing the city to block Nissan's contract. The suit, filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleges the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg overstepped its authority in giving Nissan a monopoly.
The litigants allege that the NV200-based taxi is untested in city cab duty, and that its estimated retail price of $29,000 will not be competitive.
The suit also alleges that the Nissan taxi represents outdated design and engineering, even though the NV200 cargo van is a built on a new North American platform.
The suit additionally alleges that the Nissan taxi does not meet the city's own contract specifications of offering a hybrid powertrain version. But one of the Nissan contract's selling points, according to city officials, was Nissan's plan to provide a battery-powered electric version of the taxi, offering New Yorkers zero-emission city transportation.
Nissan also plans to market an electric version of the NV200 cargo van through its retail network.