Nissan LEAF Taxis: Ready for the Mean Streets of New York?

By · May 05, 2011

Nissan NV200 Taxi Sketch

I think I understand why the Mexico-built Nissan NV200 won the New York City taxi wars. It may not look like much, but it’s totally practical, with lots of room for four passengers and their luggage as well as a cool roof panel to let tourists look at the skyscrapers. I like the “low-annoyance” horn, because there’s enough aural assault in New York as it is. So what if they’re minivans? What’s wrong with minivans? Those of us who revolve around the New York metro area will learn to love them, just like we’ve taken in the ubiquitous Ford Escape, Toyota Prius and Nissan Altima hybrids that flood the taxi stands.

But here’s a curve ball: As part of the program, Nissan is also sponsoring a pilot program “to study the use of zero-emission, electric vehicles as taxis.” That means that up to six Nissan LEAFs, and their charging stations, will hit the mean streets with meters running next year (a year before the NV200s). It’s a practical demonstration, because the NV200 itself could get a battery drivetrain down the road—the LEAF system would probably slot right into it.

As we all know, the LEAF has 100-mile range, which is diminished somewhat in cold weather. And it gets mighty cold in New York. A major advantage for EVs in taxi service is that they’ll operate out of a central garage that could be outfitted with 480-volt DC fast charging to get the cabs back on the road in 30 minutes. That’s important, because the average New York cabbie drives 100 miles a night.

Nissan NV200 Taxi

Nissan isn’t saying more than the press release, but it’s intriguing. The LEAF doesn’t have switchable batteries (though its cousin the Renault Fluence Z.E., already on the road in a Denmark Better Place program, does). That would be one way to keep the cars on the road continuously, with only a five-minute pit stop required.

This is going to be tough on the high-tech LEAFs, because the city’s taxis cover 70,000 miles in a typical year, and some of the old campaigners (Ford Victorias and Checkers) clocked well over a million miles before the end came. New York taxis get their doors slammed 60 to 70 times a day; is the LEAF up for that rough treatment?

For a clue on that question, we can look at the record of the hybrids on the same city streets. There are 4,300 hybrid taxis in a fleet of approximately 13,000, a third of the fleet. Only San Francisco has more green taxis, because with hybrids (48 percent of the fleet) and natural gas cars (nine percent) it has retired well over half of its gas guzzlers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been dealt a number of setbacks in his quest to hybridize the taxi fleet, most recently with the Supreme Court refusing to hear an appeal of lower court rulings that said, in effect, that the city was trying to create its own emission standards.

New York’s taxi fleet owners don’t like the hybrids because they cost more to buy, but the taxi drivers (who pay for the gas!) are just fine with them. And it’s not just because they’ve proven extremely reliable. Eliot Saffir, who became the first New York cabbie to drive a hybrid in 2005, told the Natural Resources Defense Council that his Prius’ 50 mpg in the city (the only way he drives it, after all) contrasts sharply with the 18 mpg he got in his old Crown Vic. He saves up to $30 a day in gas, and in almost six years hasn’t made a repair beyond routine maintenance. “It’s just unbelievable the money I’m saving on this car,” he said.


The LEAF, of course, doesn’t use any gas at all, and costs about three cents a mile to operate. I don’t know of any that are in use as taxis now, but at least four of them are in some kind of government-run car sharing program run by Kanagawa Prefecture Government in Japan. Check out the photo—it looks ready to pick up fares, doesn’t it?

The back seat is probably a bit snug for taxi use, but it’s probably doable. I had a trial run myself, because as part of the green car CO2 E Drive on Earth Day, I drove a LEAF all over Manhattan with Nissan’s Steve Oldham. In terms of drivability, it will definitely make cabbies happy. The car is, of course, quiet, but it’s also zippy and handles well. I found it easy to dart into holes in the traffic.

The taxi experiment will be interesting because, as the song goes, if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. Note to would-be electric cabbies: The Bronx is up and the Battery down.


· JJ - Can (not verified) · 7 years ago

And your not burning gas while sitting in traffic jams or waiting at a stop light. :-)

· · 7 years ago

Unfortunately a measly 100 mile per charge EV as a Taxi is probably going to be a disaster unless they put fast charging in at most of the Taxi stands. While average daily drives may be 100 miles per day, the more profitable fares are the long ones. The cabbies aren't going to be very happy passing up the best fares because they only have an average of 50 miles of range left.

· Pawan (not verified) · 7 years ago

I agree with Ex-ev1 driver, It must have at least 200 mile range on a full charge.

· · 7 years ago

I know for a fact that Paul Gillespie, the former SF taxi commissioner and the guy deserves the most credit for the transition of taxis to hybrids, is AGAINST the idea of EV Taxis. It's what EX said. Cabbies love those long ride fares. We have to recognize that EVs are not ideal for all applications, and taxis are one of them.

Better Place is going to do a pilot program for battery switching at Yellow Cab in SF--where Paul, in fact, works his trade--but that's another matter altogether. I heard the pilot is scheduled for 2015.

Check out Paul's story. It's pretty inspiring.

· · 7 years ago

Agreed. As Brad said EV's aren't the right choice for every application and 100 miles is probably a bit short. However using the Better Place model, they definitely would work.

I usually don't like trying to force EV's into doing things they aren't well suited for, but using them as taxi's would really be great if we can either improve the range to 150 -200 miles or do the battery swap thing. I say that because in major cities taxi's are such a huge source of air pollution that it would be such a great improvement in air quality if it could be accomplished.

Walk around NYC, it seems that every other car is a taxi. They are all driving slowly from traffic light to traffic light, stopped and idling practically as much as they are moving. This is an instance where I would like to see them kind of force them into service, even if it meant giving the taxi companies a carrot if they have their fleet 10% EV by 2016 or something like that. Maybe getting some of them into service will help to identify solutions and make them more usable for the industry.

I do a lot of driving in NYC with the MINI-E and I can tell you that type of driving is perfect for EV's. My range is fantastic while driving back and forth across the city, going light to light and using the regen as much as I use the accelerator.

· Dave K. (not verified) · 7 years ago

Or a Leaf like 100mi range EV with a Volt like range extender, then you get the average daily electric and can still do the profitable long range fare. No reason it wouldn't work and a cab is probably less price sensitive since the fuel savings are realized sooner.

· · 7 years ago

I agree with Dave K and Pawan that EVs aren't categorically bad for taxis but it will take the correct EV, either with more battery (and sufficient quick-charge infrastructure in place) or with a range extender.
I will say that the Leaf or its minimal brethren are way too limited and are going to do more damage to the EV movement than good.

· JJ - Can (not verified) · 7 years ago

Dave is right, (why didn't I think of that), a Chevy Volt would be perfect for a cabbie.
They wouldn't loose money burning gas while idling in traffic jams and at stop lights.
And they would have the range for the long distance fares.
This would be good promotion of EV's.
Cab customers would get be getting a demo of an EV at the same time.

· · 7 years ago

It seems to me that there is room for several different drivetrain technologies just like there is room for such a variety of sizes and shapes of cabs. I see tiny compact cars, mid-size, full-size, minivans, REAL vans, limos - all being used for cabs. They can't all do everything, but they were chosen for SOME compelling reason. Seems to be that there are plenty of cabs running around that never or rarely see a long-distance fare. If a company has hundreds of cars deployed with radio dispatch, it seems that adding EVs to the mix would be a net gain for everybody - even with a 100 mile range limit.

No, not the perfect fit for every situation, but a GREAT fit for many, I'd think. As with EV ownership, let's get the low-hanging fruit first, and not throw out the baby with the bathwater (suggesting that an EV cab with 100 mile range just wouldn't ever work).

· · 7 years ago

> Maybe getting some of them into service will help to identify solutions and make them more usable for the industry. <

Absolutely, Tom! The idea of waiting until they're perfect before we start using them gets us pretty much nowhere in a hurry. By deploying them as they are today, we can see how they do (or don't) fit in with the industry. And what improvements would be needed.

· · 7 years ago

I talked several times with taxi drivers in France. They told me they wouldn't consider anything with a range less than 700-km (450-miles). They drive diesels.

· · 7 years ago

Laurent: Yet I bet none of them that you spoke to has EVER driven even close to 450 miles in a day as a hack. EV's need to fight perception more than reality at times.

· JJ - Can (not verified) · 7 years ago

The Chevy Volt would be perfect for a taxi; The best of both worlds.
No wasting money in bumper to bumper traffic and range when they need it.

· · 7 years ago

Back in the late 1970s I drove cab in State College, Pennsylvania; the rural community that adjoins the rather large Penn State University campus. The regional airport at the time was a good 35 miles away and we did a fair amount of journeying out there.

Typical 8 hour shifts might find us putting around 250 miles on a vehicle, but it wasn't uncommon to log 340 miles or more per cab on a busy shift . . . and there might have been as many as 7 or 8 cabs on the move during any given shift. It was the dispatcher who had to juggle the variables of which cab went where. That was a sleepy job on a slow day, but it could soon turn into a very complex one at the drop of a hat. Vehicle ranges and how much was in the gas tanks was just one of the variables.

With today's generation of 100 mile range EV's, I can't imagine how a small rural town taxi outfit - like the one I used to drive for - could be flexible enough to suddenly snap into a busy mode. Better Place style battery swap bays would be one way to get around the limited range, but this could get dicey very quickly if half the fleet had to come back to the base station to change batteries when the phones start ringing.

I think we're going to have to wait for when 300+ mile range EVs are the norm before all-electric fleets are common to most taxi companies in most areas. Hybrids are going to be the most practical choice in the near term.

· Paul Gillespie (not verified) · 7 years ago

Let me list a few of the many reasons that I am opposed to New York City granting an exclusive 10-year contract for all taxi use to the 25 mpg Nissan minivan.

If this policy is passed, it will be illegal to put a hybrid vehicle like the Ford Escape, Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Civic, or Hyundai Sonata into service. Illegal. By closing off the largest taxi market in America to all other vehicles and manufacturers and advanced hybrids, it will kill the momentum that we've built in San Francisco and increasingly in other cities toward hybrids.

At a time of unprecedented innovation in the auto industry, NYC will give a ten year contract to a 25 mpg internal combustion vehicle. That this monopoly is being granted to a Japanese company for a car built in Mexico doesn't sit right with me. What is the rational for granting an exclusive monopoly in the first place? The Taxi of Tomorrow project that led to this was a noble effort, but ultimately produced three uninspiring choices.

The vague promise that there might someday, maybe be an electric version of this vehicle is a red herring that serves to divert attention from what is actually being proposed. As someone who in 2007 wrote a resolution to reduce, offset, and eliminate greenhouse gases in the San Francisco taxi industry, I take a back seat to no one in my desire get cut carbon and move to zero emission vehicles. However, pure EV's have serious problems of range, charge time, and charging infrastructure to overcome before they will be practical to use as taxis.

Thank you Brad and Jim for your fine, ongoing coverage of this story and for linking to your great story about our ten year effort to clean the SF taxi fleet. An update, we have now converted over 80% of the fleet, and have reached and exceeded our GHG reduction goal!

Paul Gillespie
San Francisco Taxi Commission 1999-2009
Founder, Low and No Carbon Taxicabs Worldwide (website in development!)

· · 7 years ago

With a few well placed fast chargers I don't see why 100 mile range EVs aren't workable. Apparently they have been working well in Japan.

People who seem larger range will continue to their quest for an ideal "replacement". If we keep listening to them we will all be very ill prepared to face the the Peak Oil.

· · 7 years ago

Yay Paul! I just enjoyed your efforts this weekend during my trip into SF (and SFO). Clean(er) taxis everywhere now, it seems!

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

It's one thing to set stringent standards...

It's another to force a monopoly. Especially when the 10 year exclusive contract is given to a foreign company with foreign manufacturing. Talk about stiffing future innovation and competitive pricing.

This was a terrible idea.

· · 7 years ago

"foreign company with foreign manufacturing"

I find it funny when people come up with something like this. If all countries started imposing "no foreigners" policy, most of my state (and San Francisco too) would be unemployed.

· · 7 years ago

Tom: it's not about doing 450 miles a day, they just don't want to refill everyday. That range makes them feel comfortable and they don't want anything less.

· · 7 years ago

@Laurent J. Masson · "That range makes them feel comfortable and they don't want anything less."

It is this kind of "want" turned into a "need" that is plundering the earth and destroying the environment. That is not different from a suburban wife who wants a huge SUV to drive to a grocery store 3 miles away because it "feels safer".

· · 7 years ago

EVnow - I have the same fear. I'm glad Laurent used the word "want" but we all know that in the back of people's minds it is a NEED. What we think we NEED today is pretty messed up. One of my favorite uses of "need" is the guy who "needs" his huge truck or SUV to tow his boat to the lake a few times in the summer. The other 50 weeks of the year, he commutes solo in it, of course.

I know, I know. I'm being judgmental.

· · 7 years ago

We all know that most people don't want to differentiate between want and need, to do so might reveal that what they believe to be true may not necessarily be reality. If you ask a cabbie : "Would you consider driving an electric car knowing that it can only go about 100 miles before it needs to be refueled?" I'm sure a huge percentage of them will say hell no, that won't work for me. But perhaps if they were approached in a different fashion, and fully educated on the benefits of electric drive maybe some would say they might be willing to try it out and see if it can work for them. Of course one of the benefits I'm talking about would be the lower operating expense.

Gasoline and routine maintenance are very costly. The overall operating costs of EV's will be much lower. If they could make 15-20% more because of the lower fuel and maintenance expense than I bet many would be willing to take a midday 1/2 hour coffee break while they were topping off on a fast charger. It's all about the money

· · 7 years ago

Well, we will all soon(ish) find out. Nissan will give 100 Leafs for the study and also install chargers.

"As part of the deal, Nissan is also providing the city with 100 plug-in electric Nissan Leaf cars to be used as test vehicles by taxi owners interested in going all-electric. Nissan will also install charging stations within the city for easy accessibility."


Here is everything you wanted to know about NYC Taxis.

"page 48

shifts are 10 hours, 30 trips, 141 miles a day"

So, Avg of less than 5 miles a trip. More than 50% idle time. Just need 2, 30 minute fast charges per shift.

BTW, Nissan now has Carwings which gives us the # of miles various Leafs are being driven every day. Yesterday's record was by "tamakun" of Japan who drove 401.2 Miles. LOL.

· · 7 years ago

I'm not sure I see your problem: 401.2 miles seems pretty reasonable with 3 fast charges during a long day.
I guess it will void the battery warranty but it should be very doable if there are Fast Chargers available.

· · 7 years ago

Fast charging a car with a fast charge port will void the warranty???

· · 7 years ago

My understanding (I still haven't gotten my Leaf) is that you aren't supposed to fast charge in more than once per day.
I suspect this is the tradeoff for not having any battery cooling.

· · 7 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver · "I'm not sure I see your problem"

LOL is for people expressing doubts about whether a 100 mile EV can make it as a NYC taxi.

400 miles is till much for a day - if 80% charging in 30 minutes is used, assuming 80 miles per charge, 4 fast charges are needed (+ a overnight charge).

All these high mileage Leafs in Japan are being used as Taxis and I guess don't get the same 8 year warranty as consumer Leafs do.

See a line of Leafs standing here for Taxi duty.

· · 7 years ago

If battery cooling is the only problem, then it will be highly dependent on ambient temps. There isn't a one-size-fits-all for battery temps. In some locations ONE fast charge would be too much. In Alaska, they can likely do it constantly without issue.

· · 7 years ago

@EVNow -

Man, I sure hope somebody has told all those taxi drivers that the cars won't work for them.

· · 7 years ago

For the record - Nissan tells us not to do more than fast charge per day. They say it may reduce capacity by a few % in 8 years. No biggie for taxis.

· · 7 years ago

When they give such a simple answer as don't charge more than once per day, clearly, this is a very simplified answer, not covering all conditions.
I have been talking with some battery experts recently who tell me that the Li-ion battery charging process actually is endothermic, hence, it will cool down as it charges. The wiring connections, however, aren't so they will likely get a lot hotter with fast charging than with slower charging. Internal battery heating, therefore, will likely increase with the square of the charging speed (P=I^2 * R). I can see how a fast charge, followed by discharging while driving, followed my another fast charge could cause the battery to get quite hot, even in moderate ambient temperatures since there isn't even much of a blower over the batteries to cycle ambient air around them.

· · 7 years ago


Somebody has told you that Li-ion is endothermic?? I've been using li-ion (small scale) for many years now. I can tell you with great confidence that the charging process is not endothermic. I have several burn marks on my bench to prove this... and the burns aren't from the wiring, but from the melting packs that first expanded, then burst from heat.

I'm missing something... because you then show how battery *heating* will increase with charging speed. If charging is endothermic... how is the pack being heated by charging? Help!

· Olmo | electric taxi (not verified) · 6 years ago

After making a TCO calculation for the LEAF as a taxi (data from Germany), it's clear that the car is perfect to be operated as an electric taxi. The owner could save 20.000€+ compared to a standard taxi. I left governmental support outside the calculation, to make it more realistic for a large scale application.



· · 6 years ago

Paul's story is very educational. Machinations aside for a moment, hybrids took over because their *lifecycle cost is less expensive than the crown vics the city had been using.* All the politics was just figuring out how to deal with a system that has one guy buying the car and the driver buying the fuel.

For the owners and drivers banners like AGW and foreign oil dependency only flap in the breeze if more money goes into their pockets. *EVs will have to jump the same hurdle.

· · 6 years ago

I read your blog, and while I think the calculation approach is correct I doubt your conclusions for two main reasons:

1. Much less expensive ICE cars in the same class as a LEAF should be chosen for comparison purposes. Perhaps a Toyota Matrix ?

2. 22 kwh/100 km is about US EPA, but taxis are driven harder than the EPA test cycle, and Germany has a cold winter that the EPA test cycle does not account for. My WAG is that annual consumption in wh/km will be 20-40% higher than you estimate.

So ... a comparable ICE car costs perhaps 2/3rds of a MB, uses 3/4rths the fuel. and the LEAF uses 30% more energy. The driver does not have to worry about refueling, and the city does not have the expensive infrastructure to install and maintain.

This is not the no-brainer you seem to hope for.

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