Japan’s ubiquitous sedan taxis may soon be replaced by more easily accessible London-style taxis.
Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s largest maker of taxis, plans to stop producing its sedan style cabs and introduce a new universal taxi design that contains more headroom and is more accommodating for elderly and disabled passengers, sources said.
Toyota is considering designing the exterior of the new cabs to resemble the iconic taxis that roam the streets of London, the sources said.
The automaker currently sells the Comfort sedan, the Crown Sedan and the Crown Comfort models, which run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and are used as taxis. Toyota’s models account for a large portion of Japan’s LPG taxi fleet.
As of March 2012, 204,000 of the 245,000 taxicabs in Japan ran on LPG. They are cheaper to operate than those that run on normal gasoline.
According to insiders, Toyota recently informed the Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations that it plans to halt production of its LPG cabs by early 2018 and will start selling its next-generation taxis. The new taxis will be designed so strollers and wheelchairs can board without having to be dismantled or folded.
For its part, the transport ministry has been encouraging the spread of universal design taxis that are more easily accessible. The ministry last year introduced a system to certify cabs equipped with wheelchair ramps and other barrier-free devices.
Anticipating a backlash from LPG producers and sellers, as well as the desire by taxi companies to save on fuel costs, Toyota will develop a new LPG-electric hybrid vehicle.
Despite Toyota’s attempts to assuage their potential concerns, some taxi firms are still worried about the new cabs.
“Customers tend to like riding sedans when they attend funerals or marriage ceremonies, so it may cause problems if all the sedan cabs are replaced by the new universal vehicle,” one taxi industry insider said.
“Higher prices of the new design could hinder our ability to purchase new vehicles,” said another person in the industry.
Another concern expressed is that consumers may not be able to easily recognize the new vehicles, which will be shaped differently than current models.
“We need to inform our customers through public announcements,” said a senior official in the Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations.
Elsewhere, Nissan Motor Co. is already marketing its own universal design next-generation taxi, which it introduced in 2010.
Nissan has won a contract to exclusively supply the gas-powered NV200 Vanette Taxi to New York City, which will hit the streets of New York later this year.
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