The canary yellow Nissan taxi was sitting outside the Middleboro/Lakeville commuter rail station on a raw and drizzly April night.
It looked as if it were waiting for a fare, but it was just being photographed because it was an unusual “test car.”
Members of the New England Motor Press Association had the dual experiences of driving and riding in this Taxi of Tomorrow when Nissan brought a pair of the hackney versions of its NV200 van to town.
Nissan won a New York City competition that began in 2007 to select the city’s Taxi of Tomorrow. As a result, Nissan received a 10-year exclusive contract to supply the city’s cabs.
The plan, by New York’s Taxi & Limousine Commission, was aimed at creating a unified look and style for taxis, guaranteeing a vehicle that could carry three people and their luggage.
Ford’s Transit Connect was the other semifinalist in the competition. It was and is a fine cab in its own right—one we rode in last fall on a trip to New York.
However, to no one’s surprise, lawsuits arose after Nissan’s victory, and a judge nullified the contract in ruling on the claim by hybrid cab owners that the Taxi of Tomorrow would exclude hybrid cabs in the city.
As a result, NY’s yellow cab fleet now has some 20 different vehicles in use.
Included among them is the NV200, which Nissan uses in commercial and passenger applications worldwide.
We think it has a future as a taxi.
Evan Fulton, a Nissan product planner who has worked on the NV200 cab for the past two years, described how the Taxi of Tomorrow was a product of Nissan North America, planned in Nashville, designed in San Diego, and tested in Arizona where the company built a special roadway to simulate the potholes, manhole covers, and curbs of New York.
“We approached building this cab for the four groups who would have a stake in it, the drivers, passengers, owners, and city residents,” says Fulton.
Drivers, who have a standard eight-hour shift that can be extended to 12 hours, would appreciate the conveniences of a modern midsize van with its higher seating position plus amenities such as Bluetooth, navigation, cruise control, and steering wheel controls. They also appreciate seats covered in breathable fabric and which are fully adjustable, something that’s not the case in cabs with bolted-in aftermarket partitions.
Passengers enjoy a spacious rear seat. Three adults can fit inside and get legs 43 inches of legroom. They also enjoy an intercom system with the driver, separate climate controls, and a special wire loop that blocks background noise to help hearing-impaired riders. Both driver and passenger can turn off the intercom for privacy when necessary, and the driver can reset the climate controls to normal from his seat before picking up new passengers. Power side steps help entrance and egress, there’s a panoramic moon roof, and sliding side windows big enough to allow for ventilation but not big enough to squeeze a torso through.
The rear barn doors open to accommodate luggage. The rear of the cab has vertical vacant signs that light when it’s available and the icon of a moving person to alert oncoming traffic when a sliding door is open on either side.
Nissan’s studies show that NV200 passengers tend to tip higher than they do in other cabs. Speculation is that the cab has made for both happier drivers and passengers.
NY cab owners—those folks who have one of the city’s 13,600 taxi medallions valued at about one million dollars each—were looking at a 150,000-mile factory warranty and 24 miles per gallon fuel economy, part of Nissan’s plan to have a competitive total cost of ownership.
The average New York taxi runs 24/7 for about three years, a period in which it puts up to 500,000 miles on its odometer.
The Nissan taxi package arrives ready for the road with the exception of meter, credit-card reader, and passenger-information display (rear tablet screen), items New York wanted to keep as aftermarket add-ons.
Local residents were included in the planning. A single note, low volume horn was designed to not aggravate residents during late-night or early-morning pickups. In addition, when the driver sounds the horn, a ring of LED lights on the roof lights up, and serves two purposes. One is that it identifies the correct cab for a waiting passenger and the second is that it can be a signaling device to alert other cabbies that the driver might be in trouble.
Originally, when the majority of the New York fleet was Ford Crown Victorias, Nissan claimed that if all 13,500 NYC cabs had transitioned to the NV200, it would save five acres of urban space.
Still, even if tomorrow never comes for these cabs to rule the market segment, we have a great future for them as Mom’s taxis.
Imagine a partition to separate you from the kids, an intercom you can shut off, and a PIM (passenger information screen) you can use to show videos.
Maybe it’s the Van of Tomorrow.Bill Griffith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.