Friday, November 11, 2005

Ford pushes new Escape Hybrids as NYC Taxis

When you think of New York Taxi, what do you think of? OK after the Checker Marathon, what do you think of? The Ford Crown Vitoria, of course. What other vehicle currently available could possible stand up to the punishing duty of Taxi in New York the city that never sleeps and never fixes potholes?
Two random pictures found on Google, with the search NY taxi, both showing crowds of Crown Victorias in service. Probably the toughest environment for any vehcile to endure. New York Taxis have to be as tough as a Hummer and as comfortable as possible. They also have to be fairly economical to run and maintain. Over the years, different vehciles have been tried in this role, including Honda and Isuzu min vans, Chrysler min vans, Ford Explorers are seen from time to time, and of course you may catch sight of the rare "London" taxi. But the undisputed King of Cabs is the Crown Victoria. Operation costs are low, reliability is high, comfort is fair and lugage space is great. Now Ford is anouncing the introduction of the Escape Hybrid into taxi fleets in New York and San Francisco. I read on one blog today, that they would be the first Hybrid taxis in service. Sorry to burt your bubble, but on a recent trip to Las Vegas I saw a couple of Toyota Prius pressed into taxi service. But the difference is that Las Vegas is relatively flat and has better roads than New York or San Fransisco. But in New York it's possible to find Crown Victoria cabs running on CNG or Compressed Natural Gas, as well as Gasoline. Now on it's face this seems like a great idea.
The Escape Hybrid, being "truck" based, may stand up to the tough streets of New York, with it's potholes and even prove more economical to run and nimbler than the Crown Victoria squeezing in and out of traffic easier. But the cabin isn't really suited to taxi service in New York. On a good day, you can get three people across the back seat, don't even consider the front seat in New York. And if you put one of those bullet proof barriers between driver and passenger, knee room will be non existent. Getting in and out of the back doors with packages or brief case will be tight too. Now I know the Escape's 30+mpg in the city will double the Crown Victoria's 17 mpg, but will customers accept the tight confines? It's a start, but with only 17 in service, it's more of a public relations move than a serious contender.
The Crown Victoria is showing it's age, the platform basically unchaged since 1979. But despite it's ancient technology, it's still the best option now. That's not to say there aren't other models that could be pressed into service.
On AutoBlog, I read that Ford is working on it's third generation Hybrid transaxle, the first being for the Escape and sourced from Aisin, a Japanese firm, the second also outsourced is for the new Fusion/Milan/Zephyr, but the third is for the 500/Freestyle platform and an in house product. No more waiting for units from a supplier that's serving multiple masters. That's great news, because the 500 would make a damn better cab than the Escape. The larger rear doors and ample rear seat would make a more comfortable taxi and with the Hybrid powertrain being able to give 30 mpg on an urban loop, the 500 will be a natural. I would expect to see 500 Hybrids as taxis within a year or two of their civilian release.

I've seen FreeStyle taxis in Las Vegas and they also make perfect sense, especially with Hybrid power and the hoped 30 mpg. I think a Hybrid FreeStyle could have made the difference in keeping this a Ford. It should have been a priority. Now at least we can look for the Mercury version in the future and more than likely a Hybrid version of the new Ford Edge and possibly the new "Fairlane" people mover rumored to be on the horizon. Things are looking good for Ford, with this new Hybrid push and the new 3.5 DOHC V6, but the "Driving to Inovation" needs to get into high gear and get here sooner.

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