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Yellow cab goes green as Nissan and Ford race to make hybrid New York taxi

New York City has flagged down Ford, Nissan and Karsan and asked them to make hybrid electric vehicles that are competing to become the New York taxi of tomorrow.

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Richard Trenholm

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Taxi! The iconic New York yellow cab is going green. NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed Ford, Nissan and Karsan and asked them to make hybrid electric vehicles that are competing to become the New York taxi of tomorrow.

Nissan is drawing on the technology seen in its Leaf with its hybrid NV200 Vanette, pictured above. Ford's entry to the contest is a version of the Transit Connect people carrier. Meanwhile, Turkish manufacturer Karsan has come up with a bespoke concept. Whichever company wins the contract gets to supply and service New York's yellow taxi fleet for the next ten years -- potentially picking up a tip of over $1bn.

Click through our galleries to see the three concepts, as well as enjoy an impromptu history lesson on the mean streets of the Big Apple.

Ironically, the very first New York taxis were electric. The Electric Carriage and Wagon Company started off with 12 electric hansom cabs in July 1897. In 1899, the now-renamed Electric Vehicle Company gained the dubious distinctions of the first speeding ticket and being involved in the first automotive accident in the US. At its peak, the company had up to 1,000 electric taxis on the streets, before a fire wiped out a third of the fleet and the 1907 bankers' crisis forced it to fold. Electric cars and panicking bankers? The more things change...

It's strange to think that those electric cars weren't sunk by opposition from the oil industry. In fact, New York returned to horse-drawn cabs after the Electric Vehicle Company folded. Then a chap named Harry N Allen got so upset at being charged $5 -- more than 100 bucks today -- to go less than a mile that he imported 65 petrol-powered cars from France, painted them yellow -- the earlier red and green wasn't deemed visible enough -- and set up his own taxi service. The famous taxi was born.

General Motors, Ford and the iconic Checker Taxi company were among the many fleet operators, with so many taxis on the streets that rival firms sometimes fought over turf in open gang warfare. The medallion system was introduced in the 1930s to limit the number of drivers, and yellow medallion taxis remain the only cars legally allowed to respond to being hailed in the street.

Incentives to switch to electric hybrid vehicles were introduced in 2005. Hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius, and clean diesel vehicles now make up nearly 30 per cent of New York's 13,000-strong yellow taxi fleet.

Our own iconic British transport is getting a climate-friendly makeover too, with zero-emission fuel cell black cabs and hybrid red double-decker buses. Of course, not everyone's convinced: there are still a few reasons why electric cars suck. Which of these concepts is your favourite? And are they, y'know, Noo Yoik enough?

Image credits: Taxi of Tomorrow, Photoglot, Nrbelex, zombieite

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The Nissan Public is an NV200 Vanette, currently sold in Japan, painted yellow. Look at all that leg room.
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The Ford entry is a Transit Connect painted yellow.
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Ford appeals to the all-important orchestral vote.
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Karsan's is the only entry not based on an existing vehicle.
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The Karsan vehicle is the only entry to offer wheelchair access, where the passenger seat would be. The interior also includes a rear-facing jump seat, like in a London black cab.
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The mean streets of New York are currently served by a motley collection of hybrid vehicles, such as this Ford Escape.
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Previously, the fleet was dominated by the now-discontinued Ford Crown Victoria, and, before that, by the Chevrolet Caprice.
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Finally, it wouldn't be a story on New York cabs without a shot of the iconic Checker cab. The last Checker cab in service collected its final fare in July 1999, with nearly one million miles on the clock.

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