NYC hails Nissan minivans as next generation of taxicabs

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NEW YORK | A boxy vehicle that evokes images of suburbia will soon define the iconic yellow cabs of this metropolis over the next decade and beyond, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday as he announced that a Nissan minivan being built in Mexico will become the city’s taxi of choice.

The model, selected from among three finalists in a city competition, is designed so that it could eventually be updated with an electric engine. The city is exploring the possibility of ultimately replacing the city’s entire fleet of more than 13,000 taxis with vehicles powered by electricity at a cost of over $1 billion.

Mr. Bloomberg conceded at a City Hall news conference that the minivan — which offers extra passenger leg room and enough trunk space for the luggage of four people — is more evocative of suburbia than of the nation’s premier urban center, but he said the distinctive yellow paint job on the vehicles will still make them New York icons.

“It’s going to be the safest, most comfortable and most convenient cab the city has ever had,” the mayor insisted.

With features including a panoramic overhead window that will give tourists a view of the city’s skyscrapers and onboard outlets and charging stations that will allow the city’s professionals to treat the cabs as mobile offices, the vehicles could become as beloved as the Checker cabs of yesteryear, said city Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky.

“Not a week goes by when somebody doesn’t say to me, ‘Why can’t you bring back the Checker?’ ” he said. “The cars that are on the road today just have not generated the same type of affection and passenger loyalty.”

The anchor of the city’s current fleet of more than 13,200 taxis is Ford’s Crown Victoria, a model that was recently discontinued.

The Nissan, which beat out proposals from Ford and newcomer Karsan Otomotiv based in Turkey, will be phased in as older taxis age out of service. All current taxis, including the city’s hybrid cabs, will be off the streets by 2018.

Although the city was not legally allowed to make its decision based on fuel efficiency, Nissan’s vehicles would roughly double fuel efficiency from the Crown Victoria’s 12 to 13 miles per gallon, the mayor said.

City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called for an investigation into the selection process, saying that a consultant hired by the city to help evaluate automakers’ proposals had previously worked for Nissan and for Ford. The mayor denied there was any conflict of interest.

Karsan, the Turkish manufacturer, had hoped to gain favor with city officials by promising to assemble the cars in Brooklyn with union labor. The plant would have marked a return of automaking to the city for the first time in about a century.

The Nissan NV200 taxis will be built at a Nissan facility in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and will be converted into taxis at an undetermined location in the New York area, Nissan officials said Tuesday.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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