The Nissan NV200 may have the contract for New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow, but there’s also a market opportunity for dedicated wheelchair-accessible alternatives. A specialty supplier, Vehicle Production Group (VPG), is stepping in, with a taxicab it exhibited at the 2012 New York International Auto Show.
Named the MV-1, the vehicle is a body-on-frame type on a 122-in (3099-mm) wheelbase and 205-in (5207-in) overall length, and its design-intent was to accommodate full-size wheelchairs plus non-wheelchair passengers up to a total of five farepayers. It is being assembled at a former AM General plant in Mishawaka, IN, with a production rate of 100 per week. It has been approved by New York City and Philadelphia.
At $40,750 (including floor latching retainers), it’s about $11,000 more than the anticipated price of the Nissan taxi due to reach the market in October 2013. And with a Ford-sourced 4.6-L V8, four-speed automatic and 5055-lb (2293-kg) curb mass, the MV-1 is likely to get much lower gasoline mileage.
The 4.6-L V8, rated at 225 hp (168 kW) and 286 lb·ft (388 N·m), is on a phase-out schedule at Ford, which has introduced two new V8s of 5.0- and 6.2-L capacities. So for 2014, VPG said it has decided to switch to the 3.7-L V6, which is rated at 305 hp (227 kW) and 280 lb·ft (380 N·m). At present, the primary applications for the 4.6-L V8 are in Ford Econolines.
With its higher taxi price and increased fuel consumption, one might wonder why the company is in the business. However, VPG has been marketing beyond the taxi and limousine market in New York City and Philadelphia. It is appealing to private owners and public accommodation facilities that need a wheelchair-accessible van that it claims will best satisfy guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act and also for taxi/limo use in other cities. Its greater interior room and cabin height of 58.3 in (1481 mm) give it special appeal for wheelchair users.
There is a compressed natural gas option to lower the MV-1 operating cost, although it adds 257 lb (117 kg) to the curb mass and raises the price to $49,750. Some state and local government subsidies (up to $15,000) and tax credits may be available to reduce the investment in wheelchair accessibility, but they also would be available for Nissan taxis equipped with the BraunAbility wheelchair system, a price for which has not been announced.
The rear of the MV-1 has a three-seat row and optional ($350) rear-facing fold-out jump seat. The wheelchair rolls up a manually extended ramp from the right side, through a door opening that is 36 in (914 mm) wide and 56 in (1422 mm) tall. The wheelchair then is turned into a position adjacent to the driver’s seat, where it latches into the floor-mount retainers. A shoulder-seat belt extends from the B-pillar.
An electric-drive automatically deployed ramp is a $2100 option. Either ramp is stored within the floor, and there is special lighting for use at night. The ramps have a capacity of 1200 lb (544 kg).
The NYC market opportunity developed because of the limited availability of wheelchair-accessible taxis and limousines—just 231 medallion “yellow” taxis (of the 13,237 total at present) and only 23 of the about 33,000 non-medallion livery vehicles, claimed Steven A. Schneir, General Manager of MV-1 of Greater New York City, a dealership.
Medallions (franchise licenses) for “yellow” taxicabs sell for up to $700,000 for an individual operator and up to $1 million for a fleet; they are specific-use and cannot be interchanged. To raise a hoped-for minimum of $1 billion, the city plans to auction in stages a total of 2000 medallions for wheelchair-accessible taxicabs over the next several years. At present, only medallion taxis may legally accept a “hail” for hire on NYC streets.
However, almost all medallion-equipped operate in Manhattan, primarily in midtown and the financial district, plus the two airports (LaGuardia and JFK), although legally they must take passengers to anywhere in the city’s outlying areas. In the real world, this doesn’t happen, despite complaints, and even seeing a medallion taxicab in those areas is rare.
The entire issue of wheelchair-accessible taxis requires a Disability Access Plan from the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission and its approval by the state Dept. of Transportation, although up to 400 medallions may be sold prior to that.