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Car companies balk at taxi task

Faulty flagfall: Nissan says its NV200 taxi developed for big cities such as New York and London does not add up for Australia.

Making ‘black cabs’ for Australia does not add up, say car-makers

21 Sep 2012

TAXI operators and government-appointed taxi industry reformers calling for London-style purpose-built cabs on Australian city streets seem to be out of luck – the primary potential contenders all seem to be unlikely to be introduced here.

The issue came to a head in Melbourne this week when the Victorian Taxi Association (VTA) echoed calls by an official state government taxi industry inquiry headed by Professor Allan Fels for purpose-built cabs with separate driver compartments and other advantages over the current crop of sedan-based vehicles.

VTA CEO Neil Sach told radio station 3AW that the current taxi fleet was no longer appropriate.

“They are family cars being pressured into a job they were not designed to do,” he said.

The VTA has written to five car-makers – Holden, Toyota, Ford, Kia and Nissan – asking them to come up with designs for a ‘super-cab’.

But contacted by GoAuto, these companies universally said the small numbers involved and high cost of development meant such a project was unlikely to happen.

One of the potential contenders – Nissan’s NV200 van – was offered up as an example of the type of vehicle taxi operators would like to see on offer in Australia.

12 center imageFrom top: LTI TX4 Nissan NV200 taxi.

Unfortunately, importer Nissan Australia has shelved plans to introduce its NV200 van to Australia, stymieing any chance of the taxi version that has been developed for New York and London being unleashed here.

Nissan won a contract for thousands of Mexican-built NV200s decked out as taxis to replace the traditional yellow cabs of New York City over 10 years from 2013.

But Nissan Australia PR and corporate communication manager Peter Fadeyev told GoAuto: “At present, there are no plans to introduce this model to Australia.”

The company said it had received the letter from the taxi association, and was formulating a reply.

The other most likely contender – the familiar London Black Cab produced by LTI in both the UK and China – also seems to be off the agenda.

LTI is owned by Chinese vehicle manufacturer Geely, whose Australian importer, Chinese Automotive Distributors (CAD), told GoAuto there was no truth to rumours in Melbourne that there were plans to sell latest model – called TX4 – in Australia from early next year.

The TX4 has at least one Australian connection – its automatic transmission is made in Australia by Geely-owned DSI International in Albury.

South Korean car-maker Kia, whose Carnival people-mover has been used as a taxi in some jurisdictions, has also ruled itself out of purpose-built taxi supply.

Kia Australia national public relations manager Kevin Hepworth told GoAuto that the business case for a specially developed taxi vehicle for Australia did not add up because of the small numbers involved.

Local manufacturers GM Holden and Ford both ruled out any specially-built vehicle to meet the parameters sought by the taxi operators and Prof Fels.

Ford Australia brand communications manager Neil McDonald said Ford had already dropped out of the taxi business with its Falcon – the vehicle of chioce of more taxi operators than any other in Australia – because it could not make money on them.

He said Ford had a specialised taxi based on the Transit in the United States, but the cost of introducing it to the Australian market would be “astronomical”.

GM Holden senior product communications manager Kate Lonsdale said the vehicle as described by the VTA did not fit with any Holden vehicle made in this country.

In his taxi industry report to the Victorian Government, Prof Fels noted that that “superior designed, purpose built, universally accessible taxi vehicles” were used overseas, and should be allowed to operate in the Victorian fleet.

“The inquiry recommends that more flexibility be incorporated into federal and state standards to allow these vehicles to be used in Victoria, including as wheelchair accessible taxis,” his report said.

“New outcomes-based vehicle standards should be developed for taxis and hire cars that allow for the use of wider range of vehicles offering better design, greater accessibility and improved fuel efficiency.”

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