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<< News >>

National News / Technology

Saturday, 11 October, 2008 1:30 AM

Automakers Warn Against Using Hybrids as Taxicabs

Safety Questions Left Unanswered, Responsibility Shifted Around

Photo courtesy of www.greenskid.com

A Toyota Prius hybrid taxicab.

 

NEW YORK -- Two of the world's largest automakers, Toyota and Honda, have issued outright warnings against using their hybrid passenger vehicles as commercial taxicabs. In addition, Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Nissan, have refused to certify the crashworthiness of their hybrid New York City taxicabs as modified with mandatory partitions. Instead, the automakers shift that responsibility to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), which shift it to the federal government -- which does not require automakers to crash test vehicles modified with the hard, bulletproof taxi partitions.

In late 2007, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) mandated that all new taxis, the vast majority of which are required to have partitions, be hybrids or other vehicles that achieve 25 miles-per-gallon, disallowing the purpose-built stretch Ford Crown Victoria taxicab. The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade has mounted a legal challenge, citing a 2008 engineer's report that finds hybrids to be unsafe and unfit as New York City taxicabs. The mandate has been delayed and awaits a federal court ruling expected later this month.

On August 29, 2008, Richard D. Emery, an attorney for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, wrote to automakers including Nissan, Toyota, Ford, Honda, General Motors and Volkswagen requesting that they certify that their hybrids or alternative fuel vehicles are manufacturer-approved to be used as taxicabs and safe when modified with partitions and other TLC requirements.

In a September 19th 2008 response to Mr. Emery, a spokesman for Honda said "Honda vehicles are not sold or recommended for use as taxicabs." However, in a July 16, 2008 industry notice informing taxi owners which vehicles they can purchase for taxi use, the TLC lists the Honda Civic Hybrid as one of nine approved vehicles for taxi use.

Another automaker, Toyota, the largest manufacturer of hybrids in the world, has not responded to Mr. Emery. However, a Toyota spokesman told the New York Times on April 27, 2008, that "our engineers are nervous about it because they were not designed for commercial use." According to the article, "Toyota did not help convert cars into taxis because they were not intended to be driven so heavily." Still, in the July 16, 2008 TLC industry notice, the TLC lists 3 Toyotas, the Prius, Highlander and Camry on its approved vehicle list -- 1/3 of all approved vehicles. Several Toyotas remain in service as New York City taxicabs.

Nissan, which claims to be committing up to 200 Altima Hybrid taxicabs per month, refers Mr. Emery to a July 23, 2008 TLC letter that claims the partitions do not hinder side curtain airbag deployment. Nissan offers no crash test results on Altimas that are modified with partitions and concludes its response by stating: "If you have an underlying concern with the mandate to use fuel efficient vehicles, this situation is a result of New York policies, not Nissan's actions."

At a September 10th 2008 New York City Council hearing, Ford Motor Company acknowledged that "there is an increased risk for belted occupants to contact the partition in a collision" for "any vehicle with a smaller occupant space than the stretch Crown Victoria" noting that it is "not unique to the Escape Hybrid" which indeed has much smaller occupant space than a stretch Crown Victoria. Ford refused to certify the crashworthiness of Escape Hybrid taxicabs outfitted with partitions, instead shifting responsibility to the TLC which it says "has an important job in making judgments that balance competing benefits and risks involving driver and customer safety in a unique operating environment."

General Motors also refused to certify the crashworthiness of its Chevy Malibu Hybrid taxicab when modified with a partition or other TLC requirements. In a letter to Mr. Emery dated September 25th, 2008, GM wrote "your client's concerns about the taxicab partitions required by the TLC should be addressed to the TLC." GM was silent about the Saturn Vue Hybrid, which also appears on the TLC's approved vehicle list.

Volkswagen, which produces a clean diesel Jetta that appears on the TLC approved list, was also asked to certify the safety, suitability and crashworthiness of its TLC-approved hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles when modified with partitions and placed into service as taxicabs but, to date, has not responded.

The TLC has confirmed that it does not crash test hybrid taxicabs modified with partitions and says it relies, in large part, on federal testing to assert the safety of hybrid taxicabs. However, it has also been established that there are no federal crash tests for hybrid taxicabs modified with partitions -- nor are there front or rear crash tests in unmodified hybrids for adult rear occupants, which comprise the majority of taxi passengers. Hybrid automakers explicitly warn against any modifications to hybrid vehicles in the owner manuals. And indeed, according to automotive engineer C. Bruce Gambardella, partitions in hybrids are a "crude modification" that "changes the entire interior environment and takes us back about a half a century in automotive safety."

MTBOT is the country's largest taxi fleet association. It represents 27 yellow medallion taxi fleets in New York City and over 3,500 medallion taxicabs -- approximately 25% of the taxi industry. MTBOT members have operated more than 30 different vehicles over several decades including minivans, Compressed Natural Gas vehicles and hybrids. MTBOT advocates on behalf of its members, its 14,000 drivers and the riding public.

Source: Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade

 

 

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