Nissan may have cornered the biggest compact van taxi market in the United States with its exclusive Taxi of Tomorrow contract with New York City, but Ford is looking to retaliate in other big markets with its own compact van taxi, the Taxi of the Future. Although lacking in such futuristic features as hoverboard technology and roof-hinged doors, Ford's pluckily branded continuation of its Transit Connect line of compact vans does include improvements like greater fuel efficiency, a certified wheelchair access upgrade, and more luggage space than its predecessors. The company introduced the model Sunday at the Internal Association of Transportation Regulators Conference in St. Louis.
The brand name itself amounts to fighting words. When the Nissan NV200 was awarded the bid for New York in 2010, Ford was forced to phase out its Transit Connect taxis in that city over the next few years. Some have called the contract anti-competition, but Ford lost the bid fair and square due to Nissan's first-mover advantage: Ford didn't enter the compact van taxi market until 2011. Ford's Taxis of the Future, which may benefit from increased market maturity, are set to roll off assembly lines in early 2014.
The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine used in the Taxi of the Future is already expected to receive the highest fuel efficiency ratings in its class next year, but an optional engine upgrade could improve that even further. The upgrade uses compressed natural gas and liquified propane (CNG/LPG) technologies, drastically cutting down on overhead by reducing fuel costs to as little as the equivalent of two dollars per gallon of gasoline. The upgrade, along with Ford's emphasis on domestic parts sourcing, should attract the attention of sprawling metros like Chicago and Los Angeles.
As if the name of the model wasn't an obvious enough yoo-hoo to city planners and taxi operators, Ford even lowered the floor and roof clearances to compensate for potential rooftop advertising setups. Other features include a longer cabin interior allowing for seating of up to five fares in two rows, as well as optional features for the driver, such as a rear-view camera and navigation technology.