Nissan’s NV200 has been named New York City’s exclusive Taxi of Tomorrow, but it’s fueling plenty of debate today on whether or not it really is medallion-worthy.Bright lights, towering skyscrapers and an assortment of fashion designers, musicians and/or bankers on every street corner are the quaint comforts of life in America’s biggest metropolis. But what really draws more than 45 million visitors to New York City each year is the head-spinning assortment of experiences available at just about any hour in the city that never sleeps. Want to check out some art? Try the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in Manhattan, or venture across the East River to artist colonies in Dumbo and Red Hook. History your thing? The centuries-old Trinity Church Cemetery and a battery erected to ward off British attack are both within walking distance of the New York Stock Exchange. Hungry? Try Famous Ray’s in the Village or Famous Original Ray’s in the Theater District. From the Bronx to Staten Island and from Hell’s Kitchen to Coney Island, variety is king. Except, that is, when it comes to hailing a taxi. Nissan’s NV200 has been named New York’s Taxi of Tomorrow, making it — to the dismay of some passengers, industry insiders, local officials and at least one star of stage and screen — Gotham’s exclusive taxicab for roughly the next decade.
New York taxicabs carry approximately 600,000 passengers throughout the five boroughs each day. Sixteen different models are currently approved for use as taxis, but most of the cabs on the street are Ford Crown Victorias, the dependable vehicle also seen in police fleets across the country. Although the cars are popular among cabbies, Ford announced in 2009 that it would discontinue the Crown Victoria in 2011. That spurred New York to start looking for a new taxi.
In an instance of serendipity, prior to Ford’s announcement, the city had also announced its Taxi of Tomorrow project, calling on automakers to submit designs for a new city cab. The competition was looking for entrants to feature a number of qualities, including “superior passenger experience, smaller environmental footprint (lower emissions and improved fuel economy), universal accessibility for all users and iconic design that will identify the new taxi with New York City.” Ultimately, there were seven entrants that made the cut, and earlier this year, a selection committee narrowed that field down to three finalists: Ford’s Transit Connect Taxi, Turkish manufacturer Karsan’s V1 and the Nissan NV200. On May 3, 2011, the NV200, a spacious van with dual sliding doors and a flat three-person backseat that gets about 25 miles to the gallon, was named the winner.
“[It] has more legroom and more passenger room than the Crown Victoria … with much better fuel efficiency and a whole variety of passenger amenities — everything from charging stations for iPods and laptops to a transparent roof that will allow visitors to enjoy the New York skyline,” New York Taxi and Limousine commissioner David Yassky says. “It was a pretty clear choice.”
The selection makes the NV200 the only car that can be purchased by owners with a medallion (a city-issued permit that authorizes cab drivers to own and operate a yellow taxi in the city) starting in late 2013, depending on the production schedule. Crown Vics and other cabs on the street at that time can continue to be used until they reach the city-mandated retirement age of three to five years. The Taxi of Tomorrow requirement doesn’t apply to black cabs, which are city-licensed livery cars that don’t operate on a meter and (at least for the time being) can only pick up passengers who call the operator’s dispatch station and request a car.
Nissan plans to replace the fleet of approximately 13,000 existing taxis incrementally over the course of a 10-year contract with the city. The Japanese automaker also sees it as a marketing tool for future taxi business. “We already manufacture taxicabs for municipalities in Mexico City and Tokyo, and provide Altimas in New York, so we saw this as a great opportunity to expand a little more,” says Nissan spokesman Steve Oldham.