I have to admit that I like the Nissan taxi that was developed for New York City. Anyone who has spent time in London understands it's a good idea to have a special-purpose vehicle for cabs.
Trying to adapt a passenger car for taxi duty has never been a great idea. Although there have been several attempts to design and sell a unique vehicle for taxi use, we haven't really seen a U.S. success since the days of Checker Motors, a Kalamazoo, Mich., company that manufactured the vehicles until 1982.
The idea of a special-purpose taxi for New York made sense, but sadly Mayor Michael Bloomberg botched it. If New York had set standards but didn't pick a single winner, it might have worked.
I have no idea whether the national marketplace for special-purpose vehicles is large enough to support several competing companies or perhaps just two. But monopolies never seem to work, even with an edict from New York.
If someone is clever enough to develop a product that fills two special purposes, the taxi and the handicapped vehicle, the market gets quite a bit bigger.
Modifying a production vehicle or van has been the norm over the years. But it just turns a passenger vehicle into something completely unsuitable.
For 60 years, Checker ran a successful business filling the needs of the taxi market, often using General Motors' drivetrains to power the vehicles. I recall that Ed Cole, former GM president, got hooked up with Checker but sadly died in a plane crash before he was able to make changes.
There is a big opportunity for special-purpose vehicles today. Since Ford stopped producing the much-loved-by-police Crown Victoria, law enforcement departments and manufacturers have tried all sort of modifications to production vehicles, mainly SUVs. But many departments are treating their Crown Vics with tender loving care because they realize there will never be another one quite like the Ford. Lots of successors, but not the same.
Competition is what works in America. To award any company a monopoly on a product that costs tens of thousands of dollars was a bad idea.
It's a good thing that a New York court told the mayor that he can't dictate a single vehicle for taxis. Who knows? We might just see some real innovation with renewed competition.