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All hail New York’s new Nissan taxi

Space cab: Nissan's NV200 taxi boasts plenty of legroom and phone charging outlets, but isn't wheelchair-friendly.

Nissan Australia’s upcoming NV200 van to become New York’s next yellow cab

5 May 2011

NEW York City’s iconic Ford Crown Victoria yellow cabs will be replaced by the same compact NV200 with which Nissan will soon re-enter Australia’s light commercial van market.

As GM lobbies US police departments to replace their aged Crown Victoria, which ceases production late this year, with Holden’s Australian-made Chevrolet Caprice PPV, the specially modified NV200 people-mover beat seven initial bidders for NYC’s billion-dollar ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’ fleet deal.

Billed as the safest and most spacious taxi ever built, the NV200 cab was named by New York City major Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, as the city’s exclusive taxi for a decade from late 2013.

“It’s going to be the safest and most convenient cab the city has ever had,” said Mr Bloomberg.

As part of the deal, which will see the Japanese auto-maker produce the NV200 cab alongside the standard model at its Mexico facility, Nissan will next year provide New York cabbies with six electric Leaf cars as part of a pilot scheme.

“Nissan is proud to provide the next generation of taxis for the City of New York,” said Nissan Americas chairman Carlos Tavares this week after a rigorous selection process started by the NYC’s Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2007.

“The NV200 taxi will give Nissan the opportunity to showcase our dedication to vehicle quality and urban mobility to more than 600,000 passengers every day.”

However, the Nissan’s selection as exclusive supplier to the New York City taxi fleet, which comprises 13,237 yellow cabs that will be replaced by the NV200 over five years, was criticised by a range of stakeholders.

NYC public advocate Bill De Blasio accused Mr Bloomberg of awarding a contract to a Japanese company “without seeking any commitments for investment in our local and national economies”, while a spokesman for the disabled attacked the NV200 because it is not wheelchair-accessible.

Nissan and Ford - which proposed its Transit Connect van that will instead become an interim NYC option before the NV200 becomes available and appeared in cab guise at the city’s motor show last month - both offered the ability to make some of their vehicles handicap-accessible.

12 center imageFrom top: NV200 interior, Karsan V1, Ford Transit Connect, Ford Crown Victoria.

But the only candidate that met the criterion as standard was Turkish manufacturer Karsan Otomotiv, which planned to assemble its unique glass-roofed vehicle in Brooklyn with union labour, a move that would have returned vehicle manufacturing to the city for the first time in about a century.

Karsan executive director Jan Nahum said he was disappointed with the decision, which he said went against the Taxi of Tomorrow’s own conditions, but would focus on other taxi fleet deals globally.

“We lost a very important opportunity and we are of course sad,” he said in a press conference after the announcement.

“The concession process started four years ago and we have invested a great deal to win this tender. The offers of participating vehicle manufacturers were submitted last May and together with Nissan and Ford, we were chosen as one of the three finalists to produce New York’s taxis.

“When looking at the list of conditions the Taxi and Limousine Commission prepared, our V1 was the car that best met the criteria. I cannot understand how New York could reject this car.

“Never mind. Our New York experience has ended. There are more than 40 cities with populations of over 10 million around the world. We will try to improve this vehicle and present our efforts to these cities,” said Mr Nahum.

New York City’s taxi deal was seen as an important test case for other large US cities, in the same way that lucrative fleet contracts with law enforcement agencies like NYPD and LAPD are coveted by the Big Three US auto-makers.

All three are scrambling to fill the void vacated by Ford’s Crown Victoria, which became a fleet special exclusively in 2008 and comprises the vast majority of all US cabs and police vehicles because of its durability and relatively low costs.

Nine manufacturers produce 16 models – including 3983 hybrids and 17 ‘clean-diesels’ - that are currently authorised by New York City to ferry passengers around the Big Apple, accumulating more than 500 million miles (800 million kilometres) every year.

However, the NV200 offers more rear legroom and luggage space, lower running costs due to its 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and the promise of an unprecedented safety crash test in full cab guise.

Nissan’s taxi pack – painted the same yellow as all NY cabs since 1967 – adds a “low-annoyance” horn, antibacterial non-stick seats and exterior lights that illuminate when the vehicle is honking, in a bid to reduce noise pollution.

Nissan’s standard NV200 is already on sale in Japan, Europe and China and remains on target to do battle next year in Australia with small vans like the Holden Combo, VW Caddy, Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner, Suzuki APV and Renault’s Kangoo sister model in Australia next year.

But Nissan Australia spokesman Jeff Fisher said it was unlikely the NV200 taxi would also be seen on Australian roads.

“The US taxi is a van that we’ve talked about getting over here for some time,” he said.

“It’s still something were looking at but there is no date announced yet.

“Nissan US (will) actually make that over there and I don’t know if there are concessions for local manufacturers over there, but obviously as major fleet deal pricing would have been an issue in that.”

Nissan said late last year it planned to re-enter Australia’s van market within the next 12 to 18 months, starting with the NV200 before adding the larger 3.5-tonne NV400, which is based on Renault’s Master van and was launched at the Hannover commercial vehicle show in Germany last October.

The NV200’s predecessor, the Vanette, was sold in Australia until 1993 – the same year the larger Datsun/Nissan E20, E22 and E23 Urvan were discontinued Down Under.

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