You may have recently heard that Ford Motor Company (Ford) plans to release Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) taxis into the Los Angeles and Orange County markets. I asked Gerry Koss, the Ford Fleet Marketing Manager, some questions about the timing of the release, and what consumers can expect from the taxis in terms of mileage, costs, and environmental impacts relative to gasoline powered vehicles. Here are Gerry’s answers:
Q. Why now? How many years [was the taxi] in development?
A. We began working with the taxi industry approximately 5 years ago in the development of our next generation taxi model. The taxi industry is very important to Ford Motor Company and knowing that the Crown Victoria, which has been the leader in the taxi market, would end production sometime in the future (production ended on August 31, 2011) we wanted to understand the key features taxi operators wanted in the next vehicle. The capability to operate on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Propane Gas (LPG) was identified as a key want. The Transit Connect was identified as a vehicle that would meet and exceed the needs of the industry. By offering our Transit Connect Taxi with an engine prep package that enables conversion to CNG or LPG we are also able to provide this capability to all taxi consumers.
Q. Who are Ford’s main competitors in the taxi industry?
A. Ford has been the leader in the taxi industry with the Crown Victoria taxi since 1996. Since this time no other manufacturer had developed a taxi designed specifically to meet the needs of the market. Recently Vehicle Production Group has also introduced a vehicle capable of operating on Compressed Natural Gas for the transportation industry.
Q. Will Honda’s passenger Civic GX compete with Ford in 2012?
A. The Honda Civic GX is a sedan and thus significantly different from the Transit Connect. It does not offer the interior package for people and cargo that the Transit Connect does and thus is targeted at a different market segment.
Q. Is the taxi going to be adopted nationally and is OC a test market?
A. The Transit Connect Taxi has been adopted by cities and taxi operators across the U.S. including Hartford and West Haven Connecticut, New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Tampa, Orlando, Las Vegas and San Francisco. Many operators in these cities selected Transit Connect taxi due to its capability of operating on CNG or LPG and are in the process of converting their fleet to these fuels.
Q. Are other vehicles being added to CNG or just fleet vehicles?
A. In addition to Transit Connect we offer CNG capability on our E-Series van, Super Duty Pick-up and Chassis Cab and will be introducing it on our medium duty trucks in 2012. These vehicles are available to both the fleet and retail consumers; however, the demand for these products is primarily with the fleet market. One reason is that the fleet customers have the capability of having dedicated refueling infrastructure. As infrastructure development increases to meet the needs of the retail consumer we would expect their demand to increase as well.
Q. What are the price differences for production and sales?
A. The CNG/LPG engine prep package for Transit Connect is $315 MSRP. The conversion to CNG is completed by a third party modifier and is approximately $11,000 – $13,000 depending on the equipment selected for the conversion.
Q. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions estimates?
A. Operating a vehicle on CNG results in a decrease of CO2 emissions of approximately 30%.
Q. How does this compare to the Transit Connect which is an EV with a 50-80 mile range?
A. The Transit Connect CNG product and Transit Connect Battery Electric (BEV) vehicles are targeted at consumers who have different operating requirements. While both vehicles require the need for dedicated refueling infrastructure, customers purchasing the BEV model generally have a usage application that has a defined route that meets the range requirement of this product. While dependent upon the tank size and vehicle usage pattern the CNG model is generally in the 200 to 250 mile range.
Ford will no doubt be watching to see how well the Transit Connect CNG fares next to the standard taxi, as will LA and OC consumers.