Joe Castelli is Vice President of Commercial Vehicles and Fleet for Nissan North America, which means he led Nissan’s efforts over the past four years to secure the contract to supply the city of New York with taxicabs. During a conversation this morning at the 2012 New York Auto Show, he told Automobile Magazine how it all happened.
“The first piece of paper we had from the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission [TLC] was in February 2008. The mayor didn’t announce us as the new taxi supplier until May 2011. During that three years, we had a lot of discussions, presentations, and back-and-forth with the TLC. We spent a lot of time in New York interviewing taxi owners, fleet operators, residents, and tourists. Tourists gave us the idea for the panoramic roof, but even residents said that, if it’s a sunny day, they’d enjoy that, too.”
“Back in 2008, we kinda looked around our portfolio and said, the NV200 will fit this [taxi need] perfectly. Today, it’s already sold in more than 40 countries around the world, and we start production at the end of this calendar year in Mexico for the consumer version, which goes on sale in America in early 2013.”
“We’ve heard from Hollywood people producing movies in the 2013 calendar year. When we announced, they asked to shoot our cab. Definitely the marketing capability is there. It provides us awareness. We’re trying to figure out a way.”
“We’ve also heard from several cities in Japan that said, ‘I want the NYC taxi, including the color yellow, including the graphics.’ I can provide them the van, I can paint it yellow, but the city of New York is pretty particular about the proprietary graphics. Nissan already has about 50 percent of the taxi market in Tokyo and Mexico City with cars like the Cedric and Tiida.”
“We’re testing the NV200 taxi right now at our Arizona Proving Grounds. We have a street there called New York Avenue with potholes, uneven pavement, cement to asphalt transitions. No pedestrians, though. [He chuckles.] We bought an [existing, in-use] Altima hybrid taxi and a Crown Victoria taxicab, and we’re putting all three vehicles through the same paces. We are testing durability of suspension, brakes, wear and tear items.”
“The graphics here on the show vehicle are for show; the city hasn’t finalized those. They will provide them to us and they will be applied at the factory. Everything will be done at the factory except the meter and the taxi TV and payment system screen. We will provide a bracket system for those, though, so all the taxi fleet companies have to do is plug them in.”
“We have a ten-year contract [with the city of New York]. A couple of years in, there will be a hybrid, not a full hybrid, but a mild hybrid, with stop start. Not a full battery pack, due to expense and packaging.”
“In a couple of months, we’re going to give the city of New York six Leafs, to test electrification of the taxi industry. We’re providing three Level 3 charging stations, which are very fast. So, the goal will be to see, could an electric taxi work for, say, Times Square to Lower Manhattan? Most taxis are in service 24 hours a day, in two 12-hour shifts. The city is still deciding where they’re gonna place those three test charging stations.”
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