Jostling for a spot on city streets crowded with taxi cabs, Ford on Tuesday announced the release of the compressed natural gas-powered Transit Connect.
An upgrade to the original model, the 2011 Transit Connect offers three additional inches of leg room, an information and entertainment system in the back for passengers and a fare-tracking system -- right on par with most of the newest models roving around New York City streets.
The difference, however, is that most cabs in NYC are either aging Ford Crown Victoria full-size sedans or newer Escape Hybrid SUV models (or, much to the company's chagrin, Nissan Altimas and Chevrolet Malibus).
It may not look like much, but the Transit Connect offers quite a bit more room and more fuel efficiency, thanks to its compressed natural gas or propane tank behind the passenger seat. CNG is less expensive and burns cleaner than gasoline, emitting 30 to 40 percent less greenhouse gases.
The Transit Connect will also be available with a standard 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder gas-powered engine, which Ford says bests current taxis' fuel economy by 30 percent.
Ford also announced an electric version of the vehicle, the Transit Connect Electric, which is expected to appear in fleets later this year.
That car's powerplant -- which does not appear in the Taxi model -- will offer a range of 80 miles per charge and a top speed of 75 miles per hour, thanks to a 28 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that recharges with a 240-volt outlet in six to eight hours.
The Transit Connect Electric was developed in partnership with MIchigan-based powertrain manufacturer Azure Dynamics. Johnson Controls-Saft is supplying the vehicle's lithium-ion battery cells and packs.
Will New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission bite? Under a city mandate to switch to an all-hybrid fleet, the TLC has been slowly working the old Crown Vics out of the lineup -- about 3,000 of 13,000 total turn over each year --but many still operate daily.
The real challenge: getting other cities such as Boston on-board with hybrids in the first place.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com