New York City may not have opted for Ford's Transit Connect as its taxi of the future, but that isn't stopping Ford's tall little van from breaking into the livery industry in other corners of our country. In fact, CNG-fueled Transit Connects are now heading to both Chicago and Los Angeles, along with a handful of other cities.
According to Ford, 12 CNG-sipping Transit Connects entered service in Chicago earlier this week, while two livery companies in Los Angeles are ordering a combined total of 119 vans. West Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, have also approved the van for livery use, and have 70 examples on order. Las Vegas, St. Louis, and Philadelphia have also approved the vehicle for taxi use, but details for pending orders -- if any -- are fleeting.
Frankly, this uptick in fleets adopting the Transit Connect shouldn't be too surprising, particularly in light of the fact that the aging Crown Victoria -- long the darling of the livery industry -- is singing its swan song. Transit Connects do offer a surprising amount of interior space, especially for passengers and their cargo, yet their small physical footprint allows them to be fairly agile -- a blessing in crowded city traffic.
But why the increase in fleets buying CNG-powered taxis? In some instances, it's a matter of following the letter of the law, as some cities require a certain percentage (or the entirety) of taxis to use alternate fuels. In others, it's simple driver preference. Many cabbies operating CNG or propane-powered taxis have told us in the past they appreciate the lower cost of refueling, especially when gasoline soars towards or north of the $4-per-gallon mark.
“The Transit Connect Taxi was developed using market research we conducted with the taxi industry to better understand what customers wanted in a future vehicle,” said Gerald Koss, marketing manager, Ford Fleet Operations. “The more conversations we had, the more interest we saw in a taxi with the flexibility of offering a compressed natural gas version.”
It should be noted that Ford itself does not build CNG-fueled Transit Connects, but instead builds Transit Connects that have been prepared for CNG use (i.e. their engines are built with hardened valve seats). Independent upfitters are then reponsible for actually converting the Transit Connect, and if done correctly, the process is both CARB-certified and won't void Ford's original powertrain warranty. Better yet, it will reportedly cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30-40 percent.
One market Ford wasn’t able to tap into was New York City. The largest U.S. metropolis decided to replace its aging and soon-to-be-discontinued fleet of Ford Crown Victoria-based taxicabs with Nissan’s NV200, starting in 2013. The NV200 competed with the Ford Transit Connect and the V1 from Turkish automaker Karsan. The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) chose the NV200 after a two-year competition. If the deal holds, Ford won't be able to eke its toe into the Big Apple for quite some time, either. The rules of the competition theoretically award Nissan a ten-year contract as the exclusive supplier of taxi cabs for the city.